Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Indonesian minister arrested for alleged bribery linked to COVID-19 food aid

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Indonesian Minister of Social Affairs Juliari Batubara was arrested yesterday for allegedly taking US$1.2 million in bribes linked to food aid for those hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Juliari was named as a suspect, along with four others, after Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) agents on Saturday seized suitcases, backpacks and envelopes stuffed with cash equivalent to US$1.2 million in a sting operation in Jakarta.

He turned himself in yesterday at the agency’s headquarters in Jakarta, becoming the second minister in Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s government to be arrested over alleged graft in recent weeks.

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“That’s the people’s money … it’s aid urgently needed to help during COVID-19 and for the national economic recovery,” Widodo said after Juliari’s arrest.

Widodo said he had continually warned ministers and regional leaders to avoid corruption and close loopholes for graft.

“That social assistance is really needed by the people and I will not protect those involved in corruption,” he said in a video statement. “And we all believe that the KPK works in a transparent, open, professional manner and the government will continue to consistently support efforts to prevent and eradicate corruption.”

Indonesia’s economy — Southeast Asia’s biggest — has been hit hard by the pandemic, and the government has rolled out aid programs such as food packages to help those in need.

Juliari has been accused of involvement in a bribery scheme linked to one such aid project.

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He allegedly received more than US$1 million from two contractors that were appointed to supply basic food packages worth 5.9 trillion rupiah (US$420 million) for people affected by the pandemic, KPK Chairman Firli Bahuri said.

For each package, Batubara would receive 10,000 rupiah, KPK officials alleged.

Two of the suspects are private citizens, Firli said.

If found guilty, Juliari could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of 1 billion rupiah.

Some suspects were arrested in a sting operation on Saturday in the capital, Jakarta, where the agency 14.5 billion rupiah in cash, Firli told a news briefing.

The Ministry of Social Affairs would give the KPK full access to information needed for its investigation, senior ministry official Hartono Laras said.

Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Edhy Prabowo and his wife, Indonesian lawmaker Iis Rosita Dewi, were arrested late last month amid an investigation into lobster larvae export permits.

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Several other senior marine affairs ministry officials were among 15 people arrested around Jakarta as part of KPK’s investigation into the permits.

Widodo was elected in 2014 on a pledge to fight graft and several prominent politicians have been jailed for corruption, but concern has nevertheless grown that the anti-graft agency’s clout has weakened during his tenure.

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