05/23/2014, 00.00
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Jakarta, (Islamic) Minister for Religions accused of making money from the Hajj

by Mathias Hariyadi
Anti-corruption Commission is investigating Suryadharma Ali, a high-profile member of President Yudhoyono’s government and the most important Islamic party, the PPP. He skimmed money from visas and the organization of pilgrimages to Mecca. No links to the presidential campaign, but the political implications are inevitable.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Another corruption scandal has shaken Indonesian politics and civil society, inflaming the campaign for the presidential elections - slated for July 9 - which will see the country choose the new head of state.

This time anti-corruption commission (KPK) is investigating Suryadharma Ali, the current minister for religious affairs and president of the most important pro-Islamic party, the United Development Party (PPP). He is believed to be involved in a corruption in funding for pilgrimages to Mecca (Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and ritual that every Muslim should perform at least once in their lives). The KPK leadership denies there is any link between the case and the political battle ahead of the vote in July. "It an investigations like any other- a statement declares- to enforce the law". Sources close to the investigation speak of " solid" evidence against the politician.

As the most populous Muslim nation in the world, Indonesians are the greatest number of pilgrims to travel each year to the holy places of Islam. The journey to Mecca - although religious in nature -  has become a source of billon dollar revenue for those involved in organizing pilgrimages and visas.  As the demand increases so has the waiting list for permits to visit Saudi Arabia. The charges against Ali are a slap in the face to the image of the Muslim country and his ministry for religious affairs, which is tasked with overseeing procedures for the estimated 211 thousand people who Saudi Arabia permit to enter each year, out of a number of requests that exceeds 500 thousand.

If you are "lucky", it may take years before you get your visa for a pilgrimage to Mecca. That is why, thousands choose to shorten the waiting time through a "shortcut" and a sum of money to be invested in what is called "the Hajj Plus Package". This ensures a better treatment, superior facilities and comforts unknown to most pilgrims. However, this complex operation also hides incidents of corruption and malfeasance .

In addition to being president of the most important moderate Islamic party, Ali is a key ally in the coalition led by the Gerindra Party and its former leader, general Prabowo Subianto, currently  in the running for the highest office of the State. Overnight, a group of investigators raided the Ministry offices in Jakarta, looking for more evidence . So far the Minister has declared he will not resign, despite the investigation of corruption against him.

Another blow to the leadership of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has already seen leading figures of the executive arrested in recent months; well-informed sources report that the president could ask the minister to take a step back , thus avoiding having to take personal responsibility to oust him.

Over the past three years, the Anti-Corruption Commission has carried out a series of successful operations across the country, bringing down high profile public figures in sensational cases of corruption that have involved various sectors including the justice system, politics and the economy. Their victims include a prominent minister of the Executive Board and the President of the Constitutional Court, the oil scandal and intrigues that led to the re-election of former Governor of the Central Bank . Moreover, the issue of corruption will be one of the key issues in the general elections in April and presidential elections in October.


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