Indonesian charity’s top executives jailed for embezzling Lion Air crash humanitarian funds

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesian charity’s top executives jailed for embezzling Lion Air crash humanitarian funds A woman holds a photograph of a relative, one of the 189 people killed in a Lion Air plane crash in 2018, during a rally calling for the airline to put safety over profit, in Jakarta, Dec. 13, 2018.
[Darren Whiteside/Reuters]

An Indonesian court sentenced a charity’s three top executives to around 3 years in prison each on Tuesday for embezzling funds that Boeing had paid out as a settlement with families of victims of the Lion Air jet crash in 2018. 

The families, however, said the sentences were too lenient and the officials should have been condemned to longer terms in prison. 

The Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT) group, which distributes humanitarian funds, used the bulk of the U.S. $9.2 million for the 189 victims’ families to fund executives’ salaries and to repay debts, the judges found.

The defendants’ actions “harmed society, especially families of the victims and potential beneficiaries of the funds,” said chief judge Hariyadi, who uses one name. 

The Boeing Co. had deposited 138 billion rupiah (U.S. $9.2 million) with ACT under the Boeing Community Investment Fund (BCIF) program, in addition to cash compensation for the families of the people who died in the Lion Air crash in October 2018.

The U.S.-based aircraft manufacturing giant said the program was aimed at empowering the local communities affected by the accident in Indonesia. It allowed the victim’s families to donate to eligible local charities of their choosing. 

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed shortly after take-off from Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta International Airport on Oct. 29, 2018.

The aircraft’s faulty anti-stall system was blamed for the crash, as well as that of another 737 MAX in Ethiopia that killed 157 people in March 2019. The accidents prompted the worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX fleet.

According to the indictment, ACT proposed 70 projects using the money donated by Boeing, but only six projects worth 20 billion rupiah came to fruition. Additionally, some 117 billion rupiah (U.S. $7.8 million) of the money was used to finance ACT’s own operations, the prosecution said.

ACT founder Ahyudin, who uses one name, was handed a three-and-a-half year sentence. Ibnu Hajar and Hariyana Hermain, the charity’s former president and vice president, each received a three-year sentence.

Prosecutors had sought four years in prison – the maximum sentence for embezzlement – for each of three defendants. 

The trio has been in jail since their arrest in July 2022. Their lawyers said they were considering appeals. 

Last July, local news magazine Tempo reported that ACT executives had used public donations to finance their lavish lifestyles, leaving the charity in financial trouble. 

Ahyudin had told the court that some of the Boeing money was used to repay the debt of a sister company to ensure its survival.

During one of the hearings, he apologized to Boeing, the families of the crash victims and the government for the mismanagement.   

A lawyer for Ibnu and Hariyana said they had acted on Ahyudin’s orders.  

‘Should receive heavier punishments’

Anton Sahadi, a spokesman for the victims’ families, criticized the verdicts as too lenient.

“We are still smarting from the loss of our loved ones. How could they take advantage of grieving people?” Anton told BenarNews.

“They deliberately misused the funds. It’s the same as killing. They should receive heavier punishments, 12 years, 15 years, 20 years, for example,” he said.

The Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center said last year that some of ACT’s money may have made its way to militants overseas.  

ACT has denied that it was funding militants. It admitted that it used 13 percent of donations to finance its operations, even though under Indonesian law, charities are only supposed to use a maximum of 10 percent to cover operating expenses.

Police and the National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT) said they had not found links between the charity and militant groups.


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