Jakarta minister resigns over graft scandal

Jakarta minister resigns over graft scandal
Suryadharma Ali, Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister also the head of United Development Party (PPP) attending a ceremony in Jakarta.

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali resigned from his post four days after he was named a suspect in a corruption case linked to haj funds, making him the second serving minister in over a year to be embroiled in graft, further tarnishing the outgoing administration.

"I told the President that my status as a suspect could interfere in my duties so I surrendered my responsibilities to the President," he said, adding he will submit his resignation tomorrow.

State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, speaking at the presidential palace in Bogor before Cabinet talks to discuss the case, told reporters: "The President also reminded all that the status of a suspect means he is innocent till proven guilty."

The minister is suspected of using haj funds to cover the expenses of his relatives and friends performing the pilgrimage in 2012.

Investigations will centre on an audit of haj funds by an anti-money laundering watchdog which found irregularities amounting to 230 billion rupiah (S$25.3 million) between 2004 and 2012.

The alleged involvement of Mr Suryadharma, who heads the United Development Party (PPP), is not only a blow to outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but also to Islamic parties and the campaign of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, whom he supports.

The image of Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party, which won the 2009 election on an anti-corruption platform, had been battered by the arrests of several top cadres, including former youth and sports minister Andi Mallarangeng. He is awaiting trial over his role in a graft case linked to the construction of a sports centre in Hambalang, West Java.

The biggest Islamic party in Parliament, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), was smeared by a beef imports scandal involving its former chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, who was found guilty of taking bribes and laundering money. As a result, the vote share of both the ruling Democrats and PKS shrank in the recent election.

Analysts say the impact of Mr Suryadharma's downfall would be most keenly felt by former general Prabowo, who counts him as a key ally. Mr Suryadharma had defied party cadres opposed to supporting Mr Prabowo, who heads Gerindra party.

The former general is facing off against front runner and Jakarta governor Joko Widodo in the race for president. He will be the hardest hit because Gerindra champions the fight against corruption, according to political analyst Burhanuddin Mahtadi.

"Mr Prabowo's comment that he believes Mr Suryadharma to be innocent is also not politically correct as he could be seen to be trying to protect the religious minister," he added.

Allegations of corruption in the ministry, which manages some 80 trillion rupiah in haj funds, have been swirling for years.

In February, the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre released an audit that showed irregularities and Mr Suryadharma was accused of liability.

There have been calls for reforming how funds are managed and also for transparency in how deposits from pilgrims and the interest earned are used.

Every year, about 200,000 Indonesians perform the haj, with each forking out between 25 million rupiah and 34 million rupiah. The money is kept in an account in the Religious Affairs Ministry.


This article was first published on May 27, 2014.
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