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Meet the Donald Trump of Indonesia

BBC News - March 10, 2017

Karishma Vaswani On top of a rock formation on the Indonesian island of Bali, sits Tanah Lot. It's a simple 16th century Balinese temple, set against a backdrop of the Indian Ocean, but it's about to get a very 21st century neighbour.

Just across the beach from here is the sprawling but dated Bali Nirwana Resort. And in a few months time, construction will begin to transform it into the first Trump-branded resort on the island.

Yes. That Trump. The site was bought in 2013 by businessman Hary Tanoesoedibjo, Indonesia's 29th richest man according to Forbes Magazine.

And in 2015 he signed a $1bn (£820m) deal with Donald Trump to build and develop a Trump Hotel and Tower in West Java, as well as the six-star luxury resort in Bali.

Mr Tanoesodibjo will pay for the construction and give the Trump Organisation an undisclosed fee for the use of the name and rights to manage the resorts. But that's not where the connection with the US President ends.

'Close access'

Known for his forthright and straightforward views, Mr Tanoesoedibjo, or Hary Tanoe, is often called Indonesia's Donald Trump.

A media mogul, he runs the MNC Group, a vast conglomerate that spans financial services, media and property. Set up in 1997, it was listed on the Jakarta Stock Exchange. And like the man in the White House, he's also a prolific tweeter.

But his connection to Mr Trump has created a fair amount of controversy both in Indonesia and overseas. In a recent interview with an Indonesian magazine, Mr Tanoesoedibjo reportedly said that he had "close access" to the US President, raising eyebrows about the potential conflicts of interest in this relationship.

But speaking to me in the cosy library of his palatial home, he told me that the two shared a "normal business relationship." And he fully believes President Trump when he says he's no longer involved in the day-to-day running of his businesses.

"I have to underline this," Mr Tanoesoedibjo says. "Since he's president of the United States, he's no longer involved in the business so I basically deal with the children, Eric Trump and Don Jr."

VIP treatment

But the two men have met, and fairly recently. Mr Tanoesoedibjo and his wife were invited to the president's inauguration, and treated like VIP guests. His wife posted photos of their time with the Trump family on her social media feeds.

So surely there's a perception that if the two men are close, there's a conflict of interest, I asked him. How can he convince people otherwise?

"There's no conflict of interest," he says categorically. "Conflict of interest may happen if the project is agreed upon when he is a president. But this happened long before he even decided to run for president."

'Naive'

Still, some of Mr Trump's controversial decisions since coming to office, not least the travel ban widely interpreted as targeting Muslims, have had an impact on Mr Tanoesoedibjo's reputation in the predominantly Islamic Indonesia.

"People will look at him (Mr Tanoesoedibjo) as a kid trying to follow big brother, as naive," popular radio talk show host Wimar Witoelar told me in his studio.

"He shouldn't run around with people like Trump. Both are pragmatic businessmen, they would explore any opportunities to make money... but what would people in the US think if Trump has a business connection in Indonesia? It's a Muslim-majority country. Where is his consistency?"

Mr Tanoesodibjo is quick to rebut these claims. "Mr Trump is not banning the Muslims," he insists. "He's banning the country, the people of those countries. I think we have to be very clear on that... [it's] nothing to do with Muslim people."

The two men have more than just business in common. Mr Tanoesoedibjo has set up his own political party, and has already run for office once. He hasn't ruled out running for president of Indonesia, taking leadership lessons from his business partner perhaps?

In his library, I notice that Mr Tanoesoedibjo has kept one of Mr Trump's books in pride of place.

"Not only does he inspire me, I think he inspires everyone," he says. "With basically minimum experience in politics, minimum experience in bureaucracy, he can become President of the United States."

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39227053.

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