Indonesia’s religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali resigned on May 26 after being accused of misusing funds that were intended to help Muslim pilgrims visit Mecca. During an investigation of the alleged graft in the organization of Hajj to Saudi Arabia in 2012-13, the anti-corruption agency named Ali as a suspect. According to the agency, transactions worth $20 million were made in favour of a special Hajj fund. While part of the money was taken from government coffers, part of it was collected from pilgrims who wanted to visit Mecca.
The allegations against Ali have led to tremendous outrage across Indonesia, which happens to be the most populous Muslim-majority country, where millions of people had paid money to visit the Holy Land and must now wait for years as the annual quota of Hajj pilgrims is strictly controlled.
Despite Ali insisting that he will not resign over the allegations, he changed his mind after meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on May 26.
“Suryadharma Ali returned to the president the title of religion minister that had been entrusted to him… He said the president had asked him to file a written resignation in one or two days,” said state secretary Sudi Silalahi after the meeting at the presidential palace in Bogor, outside Jakarta. Silalahi added that Ali insisted that he was not in the wrong even during the meeting.
Investigators have said that they are looking into all financial irregularities related to the Hajj pilgrimage. According to the local media, Ali aided approximately 100 people including family members and lawmakers to skip the queue and go on the pilgrimage instead of waiting for years like most Indonesians have to. Ali continues to be the head of the United Development Party and he has not been taken into custody, despite being banned from travelling by the anti-corruption agency.
He is the second minister in Yudhoyono's cabinet to quit over corruption allegations, after his sports minister resigned in 2012. The continuing corruption charges against Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party has caused the government noticeable damage, compelling the president to step down in 2014 after spending a decade in power.
The swindle also threatens to jeopardize presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s image as he was being backed by Ali’s Islamic party for the forthcoming elections.
Indonesia ranks 114th out of 177 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, where the number 1 ranking country is perceived to be least corrupt.
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