A scandal over the alleged mismanagement of a trillion rupiah ($85m) Hajj pilgrimage fund has gripped Indonesia's Religious Affairs Ministry.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on June 5th named Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, deputy chairman of the United Development Party (PPP), to head the ministry in place of Suryadharma Ali, who resigned on May 26th amid graft allegations.
Lukman, sworn in Monday (June 9th), will finish the remainder of Suryadharma's term (through October), with the post-presidential election change in government.
Suryadharma's resignation came four days after being named a main suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Under his watch, the ministry misappropriated Hajj funds and the minister abused his authority, a KPK hearing concluded.
"The alleged corruption in the management of the Hajj pilgrimage by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in the 2012-2013 fiscal year is related to lodging, catering, and transportation funding," KPK spokesman Johan Budi told reporters in Jakarta on May 22nd.
The ongoing investigation pointed to Suryadharma as the lone suspect but so far, it was unclear how much money had gone missing from that year's fund, which reached Rp. 1 trillion, Johan said.
According to AFP, KPK reported finding suspicious transactions of around Rp. 235 billion ($19.9m) in the Hajj fund, which combines government money and cash from people planning to make the pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia has a policy of limiting the number of pilgrims by imposing country quotas. Another allegation against Suryadharma was he helped some 100 people– including relatives and lawmakers– skip the Indonesian queue for the pilgrimage.
Suryadharma maintains his innocence.
"I, as the minister of Religious Affairs, do not know yet what the misuse means. What we are doing now is the reorganisation of the Hajj management funds," Suryadharma told reporters May 6th.
According to the Financial Transactions Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK)– an independent body tasked with fighting money laundering and other financial irregularities – the alleged misappropriation of the Hajj fund is a deeper problem dating back a decade.
A PPATK investigation found that cash from the fund had flowed into the bank accounts of some ministry officials.
Ade Irwan, co-ordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), said his watchdog group had reported suspected graft cases involving Hajj funds to the KPK since 2009, and that corruption within the ministry was rife.
Ade called for these allegations to be fully investigated.
"One of the findings of ICW is that several interest rates at the bank where the Hajj funds are deposited, are below the market rate. I think this is strange. The Ministry of Religious Affairs can obtain a higher interest rate. So, I think the background of the low interest rate should be revealed," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.