Indonesian minister resigns to battle Hajj graft charge

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs resigned Monday after being named a suspect in a corruption case over the alleged mishandling of the country’s fund for “Hajj”, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Suryadharma Ali - who also serves as chairman of the United Development Party (PPP), an Islamic party - is accused of having caused losses to the state’s US$5 billion Hajj fund through allegedly abusing his authority in its management projects from 2012-2013.

He has denied all charges against him regarding fraud in the procurement of catering, lodging and transportation.

Local media quoted State Secretary Sudi Silalahi as telling reporters Monday in West Java, "Suryadharma Ali has returned the mandate as religious minister back to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono."

According to Sudi, ‪ Yudhoyono had urged Suryadharma to concentrate on his defense over the corruption charges and to submit a written resignation within a day or two. 

Indonesian citizens who wish to participate in hajj must deposit around US$2,000 to the fund, centrally managed by the government, and remain on a waiting list for a period between 12 and 17 years.

With more than 200,000 people leaving for Hajj annually, Indonesia –the world's most populous Muslim country and third-largest democracy - sends the most pilgrims to Mecca.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named ‪Suryadharma as a suspect in the alleged corruption case Thursday and he has been banned from traveling abroad for six months. 

‪Although suspects accused of corruption by the KPK are usually detained, Suryadharma has not been placed under custody. 

Political corruption is a structural problem in Indonesia that seriously undermines people’s trust in politicians and political parties.

The PPP is concerned that the controversy over the Suryadharma case may impact the upcoming July 9 presidential election, for which the party supports the Gerindra party’s presidential candidate, businessman and former lieutenant general Prabowo Subianto.

Before his appointment as Minister of Religious Affairs, Suryadharma served as Minister of Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises under Yudhoyono from 2004-2009. 

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