Corruption in Asia

Leader of Indonesia’s Aceh province arrested in US$557 million corruption sting

Irwandi Yusuf, a former leader of the rebel Free Aceh Movement, was among 10 people arrested

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 10:03pm

The governor of Aceh, Indonesia’s westernmost province has been arrested for alleged embezzlement of the province’s huge special autonomy fund.

Governor Irwandi Yusuf is a former rebel peace negotiator who was elected for a second five-year term as governor last year after losing a re-election bid in 2012.

The 57-year-old had been questioned by Indonesia’s graft-busters, the Corruption Eradication Commission, before his formal arrest after being flown in to Jakarta from Banda Aceh.

Yusuf is among the 10 individuals detained by the anticorruption body following suspicious financial transactions between provincial and regency officials.

Among those, Yusuf and three others, including Ahmadi, regent of Aceh’s Bener Meriah Regency, were transferred to Jakarta, where they were formally arrested.

At a press conference late Wednesday, deputy commission chief Basaria Panjaitan said Yusuf and other suspects allegedly embezzled 8 trillion rupiah (about US$557 million) from the province’s special autonomy funds in a 2018 provincial budget.

Ahmadi is alleged to have given Yusuf 500 million rupiah (US$35,000) as part of a 1.5 billion rupiah “fee” for one of infrastructure projects in Bener Meriah Regency.

The money was transferred to at least three bank accounts by Ahmadi’s men, according to Panjaitan.

Yusuf was one of negotiators who represented the now-defunct rebel group Free Aceh Movement during peace negotiations with Jakarta.

Rich with oil and gas, Aceh has long been a key source of revenue for Jakarta, but little of this money has trickled down to the local economy.

Unhappy with such treatment, the rebel group emerged in 1976 and spent three decades fighting for independence during which time thousands of civilians lost their lives.

But the December 2004 tsunami disaster, which killed about 170,000 people in Aceh, changed circumstances, leading to a peace deal in Helsinki in 2005.

When the tsunami struck Aceh, Yusuf was serving a nine-year jail term for treason against Indonesia. He escaped from prison when it was inundated by the tsunami and joined the rebel group’s delegation in peace talks.

Yusuf was elected Aceh governor in 2006 during landmark, direct local elections for the province.

Aceh is one among three special autonomous provinces in the country that receive special funds from the central government.