Indonesia Detains Aceh's Governor for Alleged Graft

Rina Chadijah and Putra Andespu
180705-ID-Aceh-governor-1000.jpg Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf answers questions from reporters after he was arrested and charged at the headquarters of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in Jakarta, July 5, 2018.
Putra Andespu/BenarNews

Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency detained Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf on Thursday after arresting him on suspicion that he had accepted illegal fees for infrastructure and other projects funded by the national government.

Irwandi, former leader of the separatist rebel group Aceh Movement (GAM), became the second governor of the northwestern province to face corruption charges after Abdullah Puteh, who was sentenced to jail for 10 years in 2005.

Agents from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested Irwandi on Tuesday evening and flew him to the capital Jakarta with three other suspects, officials said.

“There were 10 people arrested during the operation, including two regional heads and some other individuals,” KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah said in a statement.

During the arrest, Febri said, investigators confiscated millions of rupiah, believed to be part of the illegal fees received by Irwandi.

Irwandi was named a graft suspect after he allegedly accepted 500 million rupiah (U.S. $34,794) from Ahmadi, the regent of Bener Meriah who uses only one name. The money was part of a “commitment fee” related to infrastructure projects that would be funded through Aceh’s autonomy fund, KPK deputy chairwoman Basaria Panjaitan told reporters.

Ahmadi was arrested with Irwandi’s close associates, Hendri Yuzal and Syaiful Bahri, officials said. It was not immediately clear when Irwandi and the other suspects would be charged in court.

Irwandi denied the allegations on Thursday.

“I did not ask for a gift, I never asked people to ask for a gift. Neither have I accepted any commitment fee,” Irwandi, who was wearing an orange prison shirt, told reporters at KPK headquarters. “I did not receive money.”

Basaria said in a statement that Irwandi received 8 percent as “commitment fee” from contractors for road building and other projects related to education and health. A budget of 8 trillion rupiah (more than U.S. $550 million) had been allocated for those projects, Basaria said.

Irwandi was serving a prison term for treason in December 2004 when a magnitude 9.2 earthquake struck off Aceh and unleashed a tsunami, killing more than 170,000 people. Irwandi, then 44, climbed a metal pole, punched a hole through his asbestos ceiling and fled, according to the nonprofit Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN).

Irwandi later moved to Jakarta and participated in the historic Helsinki Agreement that ended decades of conflict in Aceh, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG). Irwandi became the first governor of Aceh directly elected by the Acehnese people. He ran for governor and won as an independent candidate, holding office from 2007 to 2012, ICG said.

The former separatist leader, backed by the Democratic Party and several smaller parties, was re-elected as governor in 2017 under the banner of the National Aceh Party (PNA).

Aceh, on the island of Sumatra, is the only province in Indonesia where Sharia law has been partially implemented since 2001. It also enjoys a degree of autonomy. Sharia law in the province was guaranteed as part of a peace deal that ended a decades-old conflict between the Indonesian government and GAM rebels.

Local newspapers quoted KPK officials as saying that Irwandi would be prosecuted under Indonesian law, rather than Islamic law, which imposes public caning to punish crimes such as theft, gambling and adultery.

Under Islamic law, stealing or theft is punishable by amputating a hand, but Aceh does not apply full sharia law, according to the Jakarta Post. Aceh’s sharia law covers only those related to Islamic morality, such as adultery, premarital sex and male homosexuality, the newspaper said.

In April this year, Irwandi sought to dampen international criticism by deciding to move public canings indoors and regulate who can attend.

Aceh is “arguably the most corrupt province in one of the world’s most corrupt countries,” according to a 2005 report from New York-based magazine The New Republic, which quoted graft watchdog Transparency International as placing Indonesia alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-ravaged dictatorship, near the bottom of its list of most corrupt nations.

Puteh, the previous Aceh governor to face corruption charges, was sentenced for inflating the price of a Russian helicopter he bought with state money. Prosecutors said he siphoned off the difference.

Irwandi’s arrest shocks other officials

The alleged corruption case involving Irwandi shocked many who came to know him as a purveyor of clean governance.

Indonesia’s Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said that he often communicated with Irwandi. He described the governor as “very strict” on budgetary issues.

"He insisted on Aceh's budgetary issue as something that is not to be compromised. It is strict and efficient,” Tjahjo told reporters Thursday. “How come this happened?”


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