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Indonesia's sports minister quits amid graft probe

by AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) –

Mallarangeng is being investigated over the construction of a 2.5 trillion rupiah ($261 million) sports centre

Sport Minister Andi Mallarangeng speaks during a press conference in Jakarta. Mallarangeng has stepped down after being named a suspect in a multi-million-dollar corruption case, in the latest scandal to hit the president’s ruling party ahead of 2014 elections.

Indonesia’s sports minister stepped down Friday after being named a suspect in a multi-million-dollar corruption case, in the latest scandal to hit the president’s ruling party ahead of 2014 elections.

Andi Mallarangeng is the first minister to resign over graft allegations since the country’s powerful Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) began operating in 2003 with a mandate to crack down on rampant graft.

The resignation of Mallarangeng, who used to be the presidential spokesman, is an embarrassment for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won a landslide victory for a second term in 2009 on a corruption-fighting platform.

While the country has shown an improvement in tackling corruption over the past decade, that battle has dwindled in recent years.

This week it slid to 118th of 176 countries ranked by Transparency International’s (TI) annual index, which rates the least to the most corrupt states.

The KPK announced late Thursday that Mallarangeng was a suspect in connection with the construction of a sports centre worth 2.5 trillion rupiah ($261 million).

“In relation to the KPK’s announcement… I met with the president and handed him my resignation letter as sports minister, effective today,” Mallarangeng told reporters, while maintaining his innocence.

Mallarangeng insisted the claims against him are not true

Sport Minister Andi Mallarangeng speaks during a press conference in Jakarta. Mallarangeng has stepped down after being named a suspect in a multi-million-dollar corruption case, in the latest scandal to hit the president’s ruling party ahead of 2014 elections.

“I don’t want to become a burden for the president and the cabinet. The wheels of the government must keep turning, and my personal legal matters are my responsibility,” he said.

Yudhoyono accepted Mallarangeng’s resignation, saying he had set “a good example of how someone facing legal problems shows concern that his (situation) will affect his duties as the minister of sport and the affairs of the cabinet”.

The KPK has named several members of the president’s party suspects in various cases in recent years, and the latest probe comes as major parties ready for 2014 elections, with some now selecting their candidates.

Keith Loveard, a senior analyst at Jakarta-based security firm Concord Consulting, said it would be better for the party to have the long-standing allegations against Mallarangeng resolved “and hope no more disasters occur in the last year before the elections”.

“The problem really is a national one, given the continuing poor result for the country in the corruption rankings. At 118th position (on the TI index) the simple conclusion is that corruption remains entrenched throughout the system,” he said.

Indonesian Survey Institute executive director Kuskridho Ambardi said: “This is one of a series of big blows to the party that has seen its members implicated in corruption cases since 2009.”

The Hambalang sports centre was built on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta, in a tender process that has been publicly questioned.

“Suspicions about me and the things levelled at me in the media are not true,” Mallarangeng said.

The party’s former treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin was jailed in April for four years and 10 months over a separate sports graft case.

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