Johannes Marliem, a young globe-trotting executive with a house on Lake Minnetonka, wasn’t shy about cutting big checks. In 2014, he gave the Como Friends nonprofit $66,000 to support orangutan conservation and was Minnesota’s largest donor to President Obama’s second inauguration.
But federal authorities say Marliem made his biggest contributions in the shadows, drawing international suspicion as a player in a massive bribery scheme believed to extend to some of the highest levels of power in Indonesia.
Earlier this summer, Marliem appeared on the verge of cooperating with Indonesian investigators before abruptly backing away — purportedly after mysteriously being dissuaded the night before. FBI agents from Minneapolis caught up with Marliem in August, but within 24 hours of that interview he took his own life during a tense standoff in West Hollywood, California.
With Marliem’s death negating the possibility of charges in the U.S., federal law enforcement officials in Minnesota moved this week to seize assets allegedly linked to some of the $12 million he pocketed in a plot to win a government contract to produce national identification cards. The court filings also pull back the curtain on the dramatic final days of the dual U.S.-Indonesian citizen who left a young wife and daughter behind.
According to court documents, Marliem was investigated by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission for his role in helping win a 2011 contract for a national biometric ID card system called the Karta Tanda Pendudu, or E-KTP. Marliem served as a consultant for PT. Biomorf Lone Indonesia, which worked for an Indonesian business group eyeing the $400 million government contract. According to a declaration filed by FBI Special Agent Jonathan Holden, Marliem repeatedly funneled six-figure cash bribes to Indonesian officials, either directly or through intermediaries.
Once, Holden wrote, Marliem bought a $135,000 watch from a Beverly Hills boutique that was later given to Indonesia’s parliamentary speaker, a suspect also under investigation in the scandal.
The FBI reviewed bank records that noted $13 million in E-KTP contract payments transferred to Marliem’s personal checking account between July 2011 and March 2014. Holden wrote that the money went toward Marliem’s lakeside home, and other flashy expenses like a $2.6 million Bugatti sports car, $1.6 million in watches and $800,000 for “private jet rentals.” Authorities are also seeking to seize two Hermes brand handbags worth up to $600,000, claiming that the bags and other goods were bought using illicit funds.
Marliem reportedly operated an Instagram account for his Bugatti, dubbed @bleugatti, that drew more than 100,000 followers before it was deleted after his death.
In February, the KPK indicted two former directors of Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs on corruption charges alleged from 2009 to 2015. Marliem was named in the indictment as one of several people enriched by the defendants and as a person who made cash payments to the defendants.
After 18 months of negotiations, Marliem finally agreed to meet with KPK investigators in Singapore earlier this year. He struck a reticent note initially, even bringing along “three white American men” who falsely claimed to be U.S. State Department officials. But Marliem eventually opened up about a 2011 meeting with Indonesia’s parliamentary speaker, Setya Novanto, and shared recordings that detailed their talks over bribes related to the ID card project.
According to Holden, Marliem and the KPK were on track in July for a plea deal that would have brokered immunity from prosecution in exchange for a written statement and evidence that included the recordings and wire transfer records. But, one day later, Marliem told KPK investigators that he could no longer proceed.
“When asked why he had changed his mind, Marliem told the KPK that he had spoken with someone in Indonesia ... who cautioned him not to provide the agreed-upon information until he had received further assurances from KPK,” Holden wrote.
A month later, Holden and other FBI agents searched a West Hollywood home that Marliem rented with his wife. When agents later found Marliem at a hotel near the Los Angeles airport, Holden wrote that Marliem provided an “ambiguous explanation” that he was told by someone to pay $1 million of his money to a company that did not win the ID card contract. “When questioned for further details and why he would do this, his only explanation was that was how things worked in Indonesia.”
Marliem also admitted that $1.9 million in wired funds used to pay for the Lake Minnetonka home came from the E-KTP contract, Holden wrote, but said that he reported the transfer as a “gift” from his father because “that is what he wanted his wife to believe.”
The discovery of illegal firearms during the FBI’s search of the West Hollywood home prompted Los Angeles police to arrest Marliem immediately after his FBI interview. Marliem was soon released from custody, but Holden wrote that he had trouble contacting him the next day.
Eventually, Holden wrote, Marliem replied via e-mail with threats to kill himself and make other “various demands.” This touched off a nine-hour standoff in the neighborhood, during which Marliem’s wife and daughter were allowed to leave the residence. But authorities later found Marliem dead inside the home from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
An FBI spokesman in Minneapolis declined to further comment on the investigation on Friday.
Days after his death last month, Reuters reported that Marliem told a witness protection agency that he feared for his safety. Indonesia’s Witness and Victim Protection Agency told the news agency that Marliem was offered protection but did not formally apply for it.
According to court records, Marliem came to the U.S. in 2004 on a student visa to attend the University of Minnesota. He married a U.S. citizen three years later, and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2014. Messages were left seeking comment from Marliem’s wife, who returned to Minnesota after his death, according to court filings.
Marliem drew attention in 2013 when, at just 28, he surfaced as the man behind a $225,000 donation to Obama’s second inauguration, the largest contribution from Minnesota. Marliem, who also operated the Marliem Marketing Group in Minneapolis, had pleaded guilty to “theft by swindle” in Hennepin County in 2009 and told the Star Tribune that the criminal case arose from an overdraft involving two bank accounts while he was traveling in Indonesia. The misdemeanor plea, Marliem said, was an attempt to avoid a felony charge that carried the threat of deportation.