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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Former Indonesia religious affairs minister sentenced to five years for corruption

JAKARTA, Judges sentenced a former religious affairs minister to five years in jail Tuesday for his involvement in a multimillion dollar corruption scandal linked to the hajj pilgrimage.

The case has underlined the pervasive nature of graft in Indonesia, and is being seen as a test of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's stated campaign to stamp out the rampant stealing of state funds.

Said Agil Husin Al Munawar was found guilty of illegally spending funds entrusted to the religious affairs ministry by Muslims wanting to perform the hajj pilgrimage, said presiding judge Cicut Sutiarso.

The ministry, which has long been regarded as one of the country's most corrupt government agencies, has a near-monopoly in the lucrative business of transporting about 200,000 pilgrims annually to Saudi Arabia for the hajj.
The crimes caused losses of 709 billion rupiah (US$76 million; €63 million), he said.

Judges said Al Munawar, who was religious affairs minister under the former government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, spent some of the money on hajj pilgrimages for legislators, as well as other unauthorized payments.
"I cannot accept this unfair verdict because I feel I am not guilty," Al Munawar said after the hearing. "I will appeal."

Al Munawar's lawyers have claimed that he was carrying out state policies, and that the president was ultimately responsible. As well as the five-year jail term, judges also fined Al Munawar 200 million rupiah (US$21,450; €17,900), and ordered him to repay the missing money or serve an extra year in jail.

Yudhoyono took office in October 2004 after a campaign dominated by pledges to crack down on graft. The crackdown so far has netted several high-profile suspects, including a former provincial governor, several district heads and regional and national lawmakers.

The Associated Press
February 07, 2006

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