September 3, 2014 / 6:49 AM / 4 years ago

Indonesia's energy minister made suspect in graft case

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency said on Wednesday the energy minister was a suspect in a case involving extortion and abuse of authority, the latest in a string of cases that have tainted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s final year in office.

Newly appointed Energy Minister Jero Wacik speaks to a reporter after an inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Jakarta October 19, 2011. REUTERS/Supri

The minister, Jero Wacik, is a senior figure in Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, and the third cabinet minister in the outgoing government to be implicated in a corruption case.

President-elect Joko Widodo, who gained widespread popularity for his clean image, will take over as leader of the world’s third-largest democracy on Oct. 20.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which is increasingly targeting corruption in the natural resources sector, said Wacik was a suspect in a case involving extortion and kickbacks worth about 9.9 billion rupiah ($840,979).

“We have issued a letter on Sept. 2 that raises the status to suspect of JW from the energy and mineral resources ministry,” Zulkarnain, the KPK’s deputy commissioner, told reporters, referring to Wacik by his initials.

Zulkarnain said his agency would request that a travel ban be imposed on him as soon as possible.

A KPK official who declined to be identified confirmed to Reuters that the suspect Zulkarnain was referring to was Wacik.

Senior mining ministry official Sukhyar, who has only one name, said after the KPK announcement that talks with mining giant Newmont Corp, aimed at resuming copper exports, would not be affected by the change in Wacik’s legal status in connection with the case.

Wacik, who was elected in April to a five-year term as a parliamentarian starting in October, was not immediately available for comment.

President Yudhoyono picked Wacik to take over the ministry in 2011.

Wacik, a former tourism minister who comes from the island of Bali, faced heavy criticism this year for his botched handling of a ban on raw mineral exports that has caused billions of dollars in losses in the mining industry.

This year, the religious affairs minister was identified as a suspect in a graft case involving state funds allocated for the haj pilgrimage, while in 2012, the sports minister was forced to step down after being implicated in a case over the construction of a sports complex.

Widodo has promised a clean and largely technocratic cabinet in a country where graft remains a prevalent problem. Indonesia consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

(1 US dollar = 11,772 rupiah)

Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor, Wilda Asmarini and Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Randy Fabi, Clarence Fernandez and Robert Birsel

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