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Former Indonesia religion minister jailed in graft case JAKARTA - A former Indonesian minister of religion was sentenced to five years in jail on Tuesday over a funds scandal involving the Haj pilgrimage, one of a number of cases underscoring the president's war on corruption. The Central Jakarta District Court found Said Agil Munawar, religious affairs minister from 1999-2004, guilty of involvement in the scandal, which focussed on some 700 billion rupiah (43 million pounds) in surplus funds from the government Haj programme to Saudi Arabia.

Prosecutors had demanded a 10-year jail sentence. "The defendant has been proven guilty of participating in a crime of corruption. The punishment is five years," chief judge Cicut Sutiarso told the court. Since taking office in October 2004, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made fighting corruption one of the key priorities of his administration.

Police have said the surplus funds should have been reserved for activities related directly to the Haj, but went instead to dozens of separate bank accounts and among other things was used for Munawar's own benefit and to provide welfare for employees at the ministry. Authorities froze all the accounts last year. Munawar, who is in detention, has admitted to allocating the surplus funds to various programmes but has said they were legitimate expenditures. It was not immediately clear if he would appeal.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, sends nearly a quarter of a million Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia every year, most under the government scheme. A Haj pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca is an obligation for any physically and financially able Muslim adult. Many Indonesian pilgrims save for a lifetime or sell their farms and livestock to take part.

Global graft watchdog Transparency International lists Indonesia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the problem has been cited as a major factor discouraging much-needed foreign investment. Since Yudhoyono took power, a series of high-profile figures have gone on trial for graft, but independent observers say there is still a very long way to go.

Some experts say the war on graft is made more difficult by the low salaries paid to Indonesian civil servants but others blame a deep-rooted culture of greed long condoned and cultivated by all branches of the government.



Posted in General @ 07 February 2006 18:52 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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