Indonesian Fisheries Minister Arrested on Graft Charges Linked to Lobster Exports

Riza Chadijah
201125_ID_Corruption_fishery_1000.jpg President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (foreground) speaks with Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo during a visit to Natuna in the Riau islands, Indonesia, Jan. 8, 2020.
Antara Foto/M. Risyal Hidayat/via Reuters

Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission on Wednesday arrested the country’s fisheries minister who allegedly used bribe money to purchase designer bags and watches in a case connected to his decision to issue permits for baby lobster exports, a government spokesman said.

Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo had arrived at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport from a work trip to Hawaii when he and his wife were taken into custody by investigators, said Ali Fikri, spokesman for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Investigators later searched Edhy’s house and offices in Central Jakarta.

“The case is related to the process of determining prospective baby lobster exporters,” Ali told BenarNews.

At least 15 others, including fisheries ministry officials and businessmen, were taken into custody at the airport and two other locations, Ali said, adding investigators confiscated several ATM cards and evidence of transfers of suspected bribe money.

Officials said they are searching for two additional suspects.

KPK Deputy Chairman Nawawi Pomolango told reporters that the suspects allegedly accepted gifts in return for fishery business permits.

Edhy apologized for his actions.

“I take responsibility for what happened. I apologize to the people of Indonesia, especially those connected to the fisheries and marine affairs ministry,” Edhy told reporters.

“I will not run and I will take responsibility. I apologize to my party and I will tender my resignation as deputy chairman of the party and as minister. I will face this with a brave heart.”

KPK alleges 9.8 billion rupiah (U.S. $692,000) was suspected to have been transferred to the suspects from companies seeking export permits. Of that, 3.4 billion rupiah ($240,000) allegedly ended up going to Edhy’s lawmaker wife, Iis Rosyati Dewi, through an aide.

Nawawi said the couple allegedly spent 750 million rupiah ($53,000) on Louis Vuitton bags and Rolex watches.

The KPK deputy chairman said five of those arrested remained in custody. He identified them only by their initials. One of them, E.P., had previously been identified as Edhy, while none of the initials of those in custody matched his wife.

Ban lifted last year

This year, Edhy had lifted a ban on baby lobster exports introduced by his predecessor, Susi Pudjiastuti. Susi became famous for blowing up foreign boats whose crews had been fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

She had said the ban was to protect the sustainability of the ecosystem and strengthen the domestic lobster industry.

In July, Tempo, a national news magazine, reported that some export permits were granted to companies connected with politicians, including from Edhy’s Gerindra Party.

Tempo reported most of the 25 companies given export permits were established after the ministry lifted the ban on baby lobster exports in May. At the time, Edhy said the permits were awarded in accordance with the procedure and no company was given preferential treatment.

He had previously defended his decision to allow exports of baby lobsters, saying many fishermen depended on lobster larvae farming for a living.

“I wanted to reopen exports because some of our people are hungry because of the prohibition,” he had said.

Gerindra, the second largest party in the House of Representatives, is led by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s former arch rival, retired Gen. Prabowo Subianto. Defeated by Jokowi in last year’s presidential election, Prabowo serves as defense minister.

Edhy is the third member of Jokowi’s cabinet to become embroiled in corruption cases.

Last year, Social Affairs Minister Idrus Marham was sentenced to five years in prison for receiving a bribe in connection with a coal power project. He later saw his sentence cut to two years and was released from custody in September.

In June, the sports and youth minister from Jokowi’s first term, Imam Nahrawi, was sentenced to seven years for accepting bribes in return for approving funding for the Indonesian Sports Committee.

The arrests of Edhy and others occurred one day after Transparency International released its Global Corruption Barometer – Asia 2020 that found 92 percent of Indonesians surveyed believe government corruption is a major problem.

Jokowi: Respect the process

On Wednesday, Jokowi said he respected the legal process.

“I believe that the KPK works transparently and professionally,” Jokowi told reporters.

“The government consistently supports efforts to prevent and eradicate corruption.”

Meanwhile, Mohammad Mahfud MD, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said the government would not intervene.

“The government does not know for sure what crime was committed or is suspected of being committed by Mr. Edhy Prabowo,” Mahfud said in a written statement.

“But in any case, the government supports what the KPK is doing. Let the law take its course.”

The arrests came amid criticism that the new law governing the KPK passed by parliament last year undermined its independence.

The law mandated the establishment of a supervisory agency tasked with monitoring the conduct of the commission, whose mission is to fight corruption. It also transformed the KPK from an independent body into a government agency under the executive branch.

One analyst said the government’s move to strip the KPK of some of its powers is an example of democratic backsliding under Jokowi.

Zaenur Rohman, a researcher at the Center for Anti-Corruption Studies at Gadjah Mada University, described Edhy’s arrest as significant considering that the new law imposes tougher conditions for investigators to arrest and wiretap suspects.

“This means that the investigation has been done for some time and this is the outcome of KPK’s accumulation of work,” he told Indonesian media.


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