Indonesia minister arrested over COVID aid corruption

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia’s Social Affairs Minister was arrested yesterday for allegedly taking USD1.2 million in bribes linked to food aid for those hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Juliari Batubara was named as a suspect after Indonesian anti-corruption agents seized suitcases, backpacks and envelopes stuffed with cash equivalent to USD1.2 million in a sting operation on Saturday.

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

“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 Batubara’s arrest, vowing he would not protect any corrupt officials.

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

Batubara has been accused of involvement in a bribery scheme linked to one such aid project. Officials have alleged that he received more than USD1 million from two contractors that were appointed to supply basic food packages for people affected by the pandemic.

For each package, Batubara would receive IDR10,000 or USD0.71, officials alleged.

If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of IDR1 billion (USD70,000).

Officers arrange suitcases full of rupiah and US dollar bills confiscated from suspects as Chairman of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Firli Bahuri looks on. PHOTO: AP