Indonesian IT minister arrested for alleged corruption in procurement

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities on Wednesday arrested the information technology minister as part of an investigation into a million-dollar corruption scandal linked to the construction of mobile phone transmission towers in remote regions.

Communication and Information Technology Minister Johnny G. Plate was arrested after showing up for questioning at the Attorney General’s Office, said Kuntadi, the director of investigation at the prosecutor’s office.

If he is formally charged, it may further tarnish President Joko Widodo’s credibility when it comes to fighting corruption. Four other members of Widodo’s Cabinet have been sentenced to prison terms in corruption cases, casting a shadow over his efforts to clean up government while he looks for a successor when his term ends in 2024.

Footage showed Plate leaving the prosecutor’s office in handcuffs and wearing a detainee red vest. He did not respond to journalists’ questions.

This was the third time Plate was summoned since mid-February by investigators digging deep into his supervisory role in allocation of state funds for the construction of base transceiver stations, said Kuntadi, who goes by a single name like many Indonesians.

The project was initiated at the end of 2020 to handle more than 7,900 blank spots in mobile coverage in Indonesia’s outermost, underdeveloped and remote areas of Papua, Sulawesi, Borneo, Sumatra and East Nusatenggara. It’s due to be completed this year, and so far, 4,200 locations have received the equipment, the ministry’s data showed.

The corruption case is believed to have cost the state 8 trillion rupiah ($539 million), said Muhammad Yusuf Ateh, head of the development finance control at the prosecutor’s office. He said the losses included fictitious payments for the base stations that have not been built.

Plate was apprehended along with five other suspects, including three from the private sector, after some 60 people were questioned about the procurement process.

His arrest also sparked speculation over the fate of his Nasdem party, which is part of the government coalition with seven others. Nasdem had earlier endorsed a popular opposition politician, Anies Baswedan, as a presidential candidate in 2024. Widodo has referred to the party as an “outsider” in the coalition.

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