Indonesia's religion minister accused of corruption over pilgrimage funds

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 4:30pm

Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, who has been a vocal supporter of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, has been named a suspect in a graft case.

Suryadharma Ali, whose ministry was caught up in a graft scandal last year involving the procurement of copies of the Koran, is the latest in a string of top officials to be targeted by the anti-graft watchdog.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) slapped a six-month travel ban on Ali while it investigates allegations he was involved in embezzling state funds allocated for the haj pilgrimage.

“There is an indication that the suspect as the religious minister violated his authority regarding the haj hosting management process,” Johan Budi, KPK spokesman, told reporters late yesterday.

Local media quoted Ali as saying “I pray that my status as a suspect is a misunderstanding.”

Ali’s Islamic party PPP officially joined a coalition of five parties this week backing Prabowo’s candidacy in the July 9 election to be the next leader of Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population.

Another of the Islamic parties supporting Prabowo was involved in a major corruption case last year.

Ex-general Prabowo is running against the popular Jakarta governor, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in the July 9 election. Recent opinion polls show Jokowi is around 15 points ahead, but his lead is narrowing.

Prabowo this week clinched the support of more political parties than his rival, giving him a slightly larger share of the national vote in April’s parliamentary election though analysts say the presidential election will be based more on personality than party backing.

“[Ali’s case] will not influence Gerindra,” party executive Suhardi said in reference to Prabowo’s party. “The support for Prabowo is the decision of various parties.”

Ali is the second minister in the cabinet of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to be implicated in a corruption scandal. The sports minister was forced to step down in 2012 after being detained by the KPK in connection with a graft case involving construction of a sports complex. He is currently on trial.