Thursday, 14 February 2013

President grills agriculture minister over beef

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono questioned Agriculture Minister Suswono at the presidential office on Wednesday regarding the high-profile bribery case surrounding the government-run beef importation program.

“The minister explained everything to the President, honestly and openly. The President has been aware of this case from the media and he wanted to hear directly from the minister,” Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said after the meeting.

Suswono, meanwhile, said he had clarified to Yudhoyono that the meat importation program had been carried out properly. “I explained to the President in detail the importation policy as well as all the relevant regulations,” he said.

Suswono, who is a senior Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician, has been implicated in the case which has seen PKS chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq being named a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Other suspects include Ahmad Fathanah, an aide to Luthfi, who was arrested by the KPK in a hotel room after he allegedly accepted a Rp 1 billion (US$103,700) bribe from Juard Effendi and Aria Abdi Effendi, two directors of meat importer PT Indoguna Utama who have also been detained by the KPK.

Suswono denied his ministry had been engaged in illicit cooperation with Indoguna. “We make certain calculations to determine the allocation for each importer. The calculation basically is a score based on the respective company’s capacity, experience and its record of clean practice,” he said.

Suswono also denied he had colluded with Luthfi, as his party chairman, in misdeeds involving his ministry’s partner companies.

“What is happening to Luthfi is under the KPK’s jurisdiction. Leave it to the investigators to deal with his case. One thing is for sure, it would be impossible for Luthfi to influence my policy in the Agriculture Ministry,” he said.

According to the KPK, Luthfi might have leveraged his powerful position in the PKS to gain a higher beef import quota for Indoguna in return for cash.

When asked if the President had asked him to resign should the KPK name him a suspect, Suswono said, “On the contrary, the President asked me to continue my duties as normal,” he said.

The Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) has called on the KPK to investigate Suswono’s role in the scandal as the policy for beef imports was made by the minister.

Suswono said he would not resist any moves by the KPK, adding that he would facilitate the commission’s investigation and would not block its access to data, if requested.

The scandal has dealt a heavy blow to the PKS, with many political analysts saying that Luthfi’s arrest will harm the party, which has long-promoted itself as clean and free from graft.

To mitigate the fallout from the bribery scandal, the PKS would establish an internal investigation team, said Jazuli Juwaini, a lawmaker with the party, during a visit to the KPK’s headquarters.
Orignal Article Here

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