Indonesia's Former Agriculture Minister Arrested Over Alleged Corruption

The country's anti-graft commission accused him of bribery, abuse of power and fraud.

Former Indonesian Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo, center, arrives at the Corruption Eradication Commission headquarters in Jakarta, Oct. 12, 2023.
Former Indonesian Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo, center, arrives at the Corruption Eradication Commission headquarters in Jakarta, Oct. 12, 2023.
AP Photo/Antasena Kroen

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's former agriculture minister was arrested Thursday by the country's anti-graft commission on accusations of bribery, abuse of power and fraud involving contracts with private vendors.

Syahrul Yasin Limpo had resigned his position as agriculture minister last week to focus on the impending legal proceedings against him, and he was formally named as a suspect on Wednesday by the Corruption Eradication Commission, known as the KPK.

Footage late Thursday showed Limpo arriving at the commission's office in handcuffs and wearing a black leather jacket, black hat and a mask. He did not respond to journalists' questions.

Limpo's lawyer, Febri Diansyah, said it was unfortunate that the KPK forcefully arrested his client at his home at night after he had informed the commission that Limpo would come to the KPK on Friday for questioning.

Limpo had missed a scheduled appointment with the KPK on Wednesday for interrogation, saying he was away visiting his parents at his hometown in South Sulawesi province. He returned to the capital Jakarta late Wednesday.

Diansyah said that Limpo does not deny the allegations against him, that he will cooperate with the KPK investigation, and that he does not represent a flight risk.

"I guarantee that Syahrul Yasin Limpo will not run away, there is no indication that he would escape or destroy evidence," Diansyah said. "Let's see proportionally how this case is handled."

If Limpo is formally charged, it may further tarnish President Joko Widodo's credibility in fighting corruption. Four other members of Widodo's Cabinet have been sentenced to prison terms in corruption cases, and a fifth is on trial, casting a shadow over his efforts to clean up government while he looks for a successor when his term ends in 2024.

Widodo campaigned in part on a pledge to run a clean government in a country that ranked 110th out of 180 nations in the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International.

KPK's deputy chairman, Johanis Tanak, told a news conference late Wednesday that Limpo is suspected of receiving about 13.9 billion rupiah ($885,000) in bribes through his subordinates, Kasdi Subagyono and Muhammad Hatta, who were also named as suspects.

The amount of state money that is alleged to have been stolen by the three men may increase as the KPK is still ramping up an investigation into alleged corruption at his ministry, Tanak said.

Tanak said Limpo allegedly instructed Subagyono and Hatta to force officials at his ministry to pay him between $4,000 and $10,000 in exchange for promotions or participation in procurement projects at the ministry. The money allegedly came from the ministry's budget.

He also said that Limpo received bribes from private vendors who were granted projects with the Ministry of Agriculture.

"The money was allegedly used to pay his credit card bills and to purchase an Alphard car," Tanak said, referring to a luxury type of van.

Earlier this month, KPK investigators searched Limpo's official residence while he was on an official trip to Italy and Spain. During the search, they discovered a dozen firearms and banknotes worth approximately 30 billion rupiah ($1.9 million) in several currencies, according to Ali Fikri, the KPK spokesperson.

Limpo, a former South Sulawesi governor, is the second politician from the Nasdem Party to face recent prosecution. Johnny G. Plate, a former communication minister, is on trial over allegations of $533 million in graft in the procurement of equipment for a 4G communications project.

The Nasdem Party is part of the ruling government coalition with seven other parties, but last November it endorsed a popular opposition politician, Anies Baswedan, as a presidential candidate in 2024. That prompted President Joko Widodo to refer to the party as an "outsider" in his coalition.

The cases against Plate and Limpo are likely to harm Nasdem's chances in elections scheduled for February 2024, including its nomination of Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor, for president.

Fikri, the KPK spokesman, denied that the case against Limpo has any political motives as they have arrested around 250 members of the local parliament, as many as 133 regents and mayors as well as 18 governors, 83 members of the national parliament and 12 ministers since the institution was founded in late 2003.

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