Indonesian police have arrested three Religious Affairs Ministry officials from West Nusa Tenggara for allegedly demanding kickbacks from funds to repair 58 mosques damaged during powerful earthquakes that hit the province last year. The region was hit by a series of powerful quakes
in July and August last year, killing at least 563 people and damaged thousands of buildings, including 630 mosques. The three suspects — identified only by the initials SL, BA and IK — allegedly demanded 20 percent of US$426,000 set aside to fund the repair of 58 mosques. When arrested they had already pocketed a total of $7,455 earmarked for the repair of four of the mosques, police said. They were caught red-handed, according to Mataram Police chief Saiful Alam. The suspects identified as BA and IK were arrested earlier in the week, while SL was apprehended on Jan. 17, Alam said. BA was arrested with $710 he had taken from the administrator of one mosque, the police chief told ucanews.com. "The suspects told the mosque administrators that they would find it difficult to obtain the money if they did not agree to give 20 percent to them," he said. Alam said there was also evidence of money transfers between them. Now, they face up to 20 years in prison, he said. Nasarudin, the head of the local Religious Affairs Ministry
office, expressed dismay when asked about the arrests. If corruption
is proven they will be fired and stripped of their civil servant benefits, he said. "We will not provide lawyers for them as what they have allegedly done is very embarrassing and has tarnished the reputation of the ministry," said Nasarudin, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name. News of the arrests came as little surprise to Agus Sunaryanto, deputy coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch, who said disaster funds were prone to graft as a result of poor supervision. "During disasters, people mostly focus on the victims or how to rebuild infrastructure as fast as possible and forget about monitoring [the disbursement of disaster funds]," Sunaryanto was quoted by The Jakarta Post
daily as saying. West Nusa Tenggara police arrested a local councilor in September last year for taking money earmarked to rebuild damaged schools. He was arrested after being caught accepting more than $2,000 in cash.
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Of the province's 5 million population, 97 percent are Muslim.