Indonesia’s former agriculture minister was arrested yesterday by the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission on allegations of bribery, abuse of power, and fraud involving contracts with private vendors.
Syahrul Yasin Limpo resigned from his position as agriculture minister last week to focus on the impending legal proceedings against him. According to The Associated Press, footage late yesterday showed Syahrul “arriving at the commission’s office in handcuffs and wearing a black leather jacket, black hat, and a mask,” a day after being formally named as a suspect by the Commission, which is known by its Indonesian acronym KPK.
In late September, while Syahrul was away on a trip to Europe, KPK officials raided his office and official residence in Jakarta and a private house in Makassar, according to the news magazine Tempo. KPK confiscated 30 billion rupiah ($1.9 million) in cash, documents, and an Audi A6 car, the outlet reported.
According to the AP, KPK’s Deputy Chairman Johanis Tanak told a news conference late Wednesday that Syahrul is suspected of receiving about 13.9 billion rupiah ($885,000) in bribes through two of his subordinates, who have also been named as suspects.
Syahrul, a former governor of South Sulawesi, who was appointed agriculture minister at the start of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second term in October 2019, is the sixth member of Jokowi’s cabinet to be arrested for corruption over the past few years.
In April 2019, former Social Affairs Minister Idrus Marham, was sentenced to three years in prison for accepting bribes from a businessman in return for the rights to develop a coal-fired power plant project in Sumatra. That June, former Youth and Sport Minister Imam Nahrawi was sentenced to seven years in prison after he was found guilty of embezzling money from a National Sports Committee grant.
In July 2021, Edhy Prabowo, the former minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in a corrupt scheme to export valuable lobster larvae. The following month, ex-Social Affairs Minister Juliari Peter Batubaram was sent down for 12 years for taking bribes from private contractors in connection with a government COVID-19 assistance package.
Most recently, in May, Johnny G. Plate, the minister of communication and information technology, was arrested in connection with the corrupt procurement of equipment needed to build some 4,200 mobile communication towers in remote areas of the archipelago. His trial is ongoing.
These cases reflect Indonesia’s halting successes in bringing corruption to heel.
The number of corruption cases against current and former members of Jokowi’s cabinet presents an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, it reveals that corruption continues to flourish at the highest levels of the Indonesian government, despite Jokowi’s pledges to clean up government. Since 2019, Indonesia’s standing in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index fell from 85th place in 2019 to 96th place in the 2021 index and 110th place in 2022.
On the other hand, it could also be read as a sign that the system is to a certain extent working as intended. After all, in an atmosphere of true impunity, none of these ministers would have ended up on trial to begin with.
That said, this contradiction may simply reflect a political bias in how the KPK is pursuing its prosecutions. For instance, it is probably no coincidence that both Syahrul and Plate, the two most recent high-level targets of the KPK, belong to the Nasdem Party. While a part of Jokowi’s sprawling seven-party coalition, Nasdem last year drew Jokowi’s ire when it endorsed a popular opposition politician, Anies Baswedan, as a candidate for next year’s presidential election. Jokowi has since referred to Nasdem as an “outsider” in his coalition. “Nasdem, let’s say what it is, has belonged to its own coalition,” he told the press in May. Jokowi and Anies have a history of friction, with Anies exploiting religious sentiments to triumph over Jokowi’s successor in the Jakarta gubernatorial election of 2017.
Back in June, a month after Plate’s arrest, former Law and Human Rights Minister Denny Indrayana alleged that the case against Syahrul was being mobilized in order to hamper Anies’ presidential candidacy. “The aim is clear, it is to brother the KPP coalition and ruin Anies Baswedan’s chances as a presidential candidate,” he said in a statement at the time.
The KPK this week denied accusations that the case is politically motivated.