Indonesia oilman awash in Madagascar coup intrigue

 In a storyline seemingly straight out of a B-grade movie, Indonesian businessman Albert Njoo has been accused of financing a coup and assassination attempt against Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina, allegedly to protect his majority stake in a stranded heavy-oil concession on the Indian Ocean island. 

But three months after 21 people, including alleged coup leader Paul Rafanoharana, 57, were arrested for their role in the conspiracy, the Madagascar government has failed to follow through on the allegation against a seemingly unconcerned Njoo, who continues to go to his office every day in Singapore in business as usual fashion.

Rafanoharana, a French-Malagasy former gendarme captain, retired French army colonel Philippe Francois, 54, and five army and police generals are being held in a high-security prison facing charges of endangering state security and conspiracy to kill the president.

It isn’t the first time Rajoelina has claimed an attempt on his life. He was initially suspected of concocting the coup story to get rid of his political rivals and seize control of the two-billion-barrel Tsimiroro concession owned by Njoo’s Madagascar Oil.

Njoo’s Singapore-based Benchmark Group, the majority stakeholder in Madagascar Oil, insists that while it did receive e-mails from Rafanoharana, the firm’s security adviser, soliciting 10 million euros (US$11.5 million) for “political destabilization purposes,” it did not act on them.

Police claim to have found deleted messages on Rafanoharana’s computer condemning Rajoelina for plunging the impoverished country into a “hellish spiral” and pointing out that removing him would free Madagascar Oil of its many bureaucratic obstacles.

Observers point out that if Njoo is under investigation for the coup plot, it has not reached the stage where law enforcement agencies have asked Interpol, the international police organization, to issue him with a Red Notice. He is not among the current list of7,580 international fugitives.

A prominent figure in the Jakarta business community during the waning days of the Suharto presidency, Njoo failed to respond to Asia Times’ request for comment made through Madagascar Oil and Benchmark. He has not talked directly to the media about the charges.