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Sex tape scandal transfixes the nation

Widely-viewed, stolen videos could land celebrities in prison on anti-porn charges. Indonesians shrug over Obama’s second postponed visit. Billionaire political chief Bakrie faces bribery accusations. And in Bali, a man marries a cow after being caught having intercourse with her.


Top: Indonesians nationwide are fixated on a growing sex tape scandal involving three of the country’s most famous celebrities that has already led to three arrests and a pledge by the government to censor pornography from the Internet.

On June 4, racy homemade videos of Nazril “Ariel” Ilham, lead singer of the pop band Peterpan, and his girlfriend Luna Maya, a popular model and television presenter, were uploaded onto the Internet and spread like wildfire through cyberspace. A separate video of Ariel with former girlfriend Cut Tari, another popular television presenter, was also uploaded the same day.

The videos were made using a cell phone and apparently downloaded millions of times by Indonesians of all ages, enraging police officials who examined the cell phones of junior high and high school students to see if they had the tapes. Police arrested Ariel on June 22 under the country’s controversial anti-pornography law. Police have also arrested two unnamed suspects, who are alleged to have uploaded the tapes from a hard drive previously stolen from Ariel’s house.

Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring has used the scandal to revive a proposed regulation to monitor cyberspace for pornographic material, while President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the scandal should serve as “wake up call” about the dangers of some Internet content.

U.S. President Barack Obama cancelled a scheduled state visit to Indonesia on June 14 for the second time because of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama, who spent nearly four years as a child in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, had also postponed the visit in March to remain in Washington D.C. for a decisive congressional vote on overhauling the U.S. health care system.

The Indonesian government and public wasn’t overly upset about the latest delay, and pushed back scheduled events including a reunion between Obama and his elementary school classmates until November, when the U.S. president is now expected to visit. Obama has written and spoken extensively about his days growing up in Jakarta between 1967 and 1971.

A tax and corruption scandal that has ensnared police officials, state prosecutors and a court judge deepened on June 4 when one of the chief suspects claimed to have taken bribes from companies owned by key political ally of President Yudhoyono. Detained former tax department official Gayus Tambunan, under investigation for taking millions of dollars to help rich individuals and companies avoid paying high tax rates, claimed during police questioning that he had taken money from three coal mining firms owned by the family of Aburizal Bakrie, leader of the powerful Golkar Party and coordinator of Yudhoyono’s ruling coalition government.

The three companies in question are already under investigation by the Ministry of Finance for alleged tax evasion. Officials from Bakrie’s family-run conglomerate have denied bribing anyone and are fighting the tax evasion investigations.

Money: The Indonesian government’s anti-corruption drive took a hit after Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati stepped down to take a senior position with the World Bank on June 1. Mulyani, an internationally respected economist, resigned in May after a months-long political battle with lawmakers about her decision to bail out an ailing private lender in 2008 to the tune of $730 million.

The lawmakers, including senior members of Bakrie’s Golkar Party, were accused of using the bailout as an excuse to get rid of Mulyani, whose macro-economic reforms and anti-corruption drive were said to be affecting their business interests. In a parting shot, Mulyani said just before leaving Jakarta for Washington, D.C. on May 26 that Indonesia’s hard-won democratic and economic reforms were in danger of being “hijacked” by vested business and political interests, and directly named Bakrie as being one of them.

Norway has committed $1 billion to the Indonesian government to help stop deforestation in some of the world’s largest remaining rainforests. In return, Indonesia will stop issuing new logging concessions in natural forests and peatlands for two years.

The announcement on May 26 was applauded by environmentalists who say that Indonesia’s rampant deforestation had made it the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, which are believed to cause climate change. But officials from the country’s palm oil sector, which is the largest in the world, expressed concern that they would also be targeted by the freeze, which could stop planned expansion in the $12-billion-a-year industry.

Elsewhere: An 18-year-old man on the Indonesian resort island of Bali was caught in the act of having intercourse with a cow and was forced to “marry” the animal. The local ritual, meant to cleanse the village of the unholy act, was widely reported in local media between June 7 and 12.

The groom, Ngurah Alit, who lives in a quiet seaside village, admitted to the act of bestiality, but claimed who have been under a spell and believed that the cow was a beautiful young woman who had wooed him with flattering compliments.