Indonesian fisheries minister arrested by anti-graft agency

Edhy Prabowo denied wrongdoing in comments to media in July. PHOTO: EDHY PRABOWO/FACEBOOK

JAKARTA - Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo has been arrested for alleged corruption related to his ministry's decision to lift a ban on lobster larvae exports.

Mr Edhy was arrested along with more than a dozen others in the early hours of Wednesday (Nov 25) at the country's main Soekarno-Hatta international airport in Jakarta, Corruption Eradication Commission's (KPK) acting spokesman Ali Fikri said in a statement sent to reporters in late Wednesday afternoon.

"Among the 17 detained are the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister and his wife, several ministry officials and people from private companies," Mr Ali said, adding that KPK will interrogate the detainees for 24 hours since the arrest.

KPK is expected to hold a media briefing later on Wednesday.

Following news of the arrest, President Joko Widodo released a statement saying investigations are ongoing.

"I trust KPK as it works in a transparent, open and professional manner. The government is consistent in supporting efforts to prevent and eradicate corruption."

News website, citing an unnamed source, had reported the arrest. It said Mr Edhy was rounded up at 1.23am as he arrived from a trip to the United States.

The report was later confirmed by KPK commissioner Nawawi Pomolango, who said several others with the minister were also detained.

Deputy commissioner of KPK Nurul Ghufron told the agency was involved in the arrests. "It's related to the export of lobster larvae," he added.

Mr Edhy adds to the list of Indonesian ministers and other high-profile figures detained by KPK in recent years.

In August 2018, then Social Affairs Minister Idrus Marham was arrested by KPK for receiving bribes from a businessman when he was a member of parliament. It was in exchange for his support for a power plant project in the Riau province.

The former minister was convicted last year by a district court to three years' jail before the Supreme Court cut his sentence to two years. In 2017, KPK nabbed and threw in jail for 15 years then speaker of parliament Setya Novanto for siphoning-off funds from a national identity card procurement project.

KPK had also arrested rogue state prosecutors and active police generals, including Djoko Susilo, who made money off a car driving simulator project used in driving licence examinations.

Mr Edhy had in December last year reversed a policy introduced by his predecessor, Mr Susi Pudjiastuti, who placed a ban on the export of lobster larvae in 2016, citing conservation and economic reasons.

At a hearing in parliament to reverse the policy, Mr Edhy told MPs that doing so would benefit fishermen and the state coffers.

He also argued that the lifting of the ban would not affect the mature lobster population, pointing out a research report which revealed that less than 1 per cent of lobster larvae reach maturity in their natural habitat.

Mr Charles Meikyansah, a member of the parliamentary committee overseeing environment and maritime affairs, told Jakarta-based Elshinta radio on Wednesday that the committee was split on the decision to lift the ban.

But they eventually supported the minister's motion, on condition that his ministry upholds sustainability and maintains transparency when selecting companies to export lobster larvae.

It later emerged that among the companies granted permission was one linked to politicians with Gerindra, the political party Mr Edhy hails from. The minister later denied he was aware of this, insisting he was not directly involved in any operational decision to grant companies permission to export.

He said a team, comprising senior bureaucrats in the ministry, had made the decision.

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