Indonesian leader's ally arrested in graft case as polls loom

Jakarta (AFP) –


Indonesia's anti-corruption agency arrested a key political backer of President Joko Widodo on Friday, just a month before he bids for re-election in the world's third-biggest democracy.

United Development Party chief Muhammad Romahurmuziy was taken into custody by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) along with several others, including an official from the religious affairs ministry.

The anti-corruption agency offered few details, but said the case involved jobs at the religious affairs ministry and payments made to public officials.

"The KPK team in East Java made arrests this morning," agency spokesman Febri Diansyah told reporters.

United Development, an Islamic party, is among a string of parties backing Widodo's April 17 re-election bid in the world's biggest Muslim majority country.

The president's campaign team spokesman expressed surprise that one of his closest confidantes was arrested, but insisted the charges were unrelated to next month's polls.

"Of course we were shocked to hear this and we're concerned," Fikri Satari told broadcaster Kompas TV.

"But this is not related to the presidential election. It's a personal case," he said.

"It's evidence of the government's commitment to upholding justice, especially in corruption cases."

The Southeast Asian nation is riddled with corruption at all levels of society and its parliament is widely viewed as one of its most graft-hit institutions.

In 2018, ex-parliamentary speaker Setya Novanto was jailed for 15 years for accepting bribes and millions of dollars in kickbacks.

The arrest of Romahurmuziy, 44, marked the second time the head of the Islamic party has been arrested in a corruption case.

In 2014, then United Development chairman Suryadharma Ali, who was also religious affairs minister, was arrested for helping relatives skip a long waiting list to go on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

He was later sentenced to six years in prison.

Some 8,000 people are vying for seats in parliament and regional councils, with about 192 million registered voters eligible to cast a ballot next month.

Widodo is leading polls in the race for the presidency against challenger Prabowo Subianto, a former military general.