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Indonesian ex-minister gets sentence cut for ‘good work’ fueled by corruption

  • Indonesia’s top appeals court has slashed the jail sentence for Edhy Prabowo, the country’s former fisheries minister, from nine years to five.
  • In their ruling, the judges said a lower court had been unduly harsh in its sentencing, and specifically praised Edhy’s “good work” in lifting a ban on lobster larvae exports.
  • But it was precisely over this policy that Edhy was arrested in 2020 and subsequently convicted in 2021: He was found guilty of collecting nearly $2 million in bribes from crony-linked companies that were awarded the lucrative export contracts.
  • Fisheries observers have criticized the latest ruling, saying it fails to reflect the severity of Edhy’s crime.

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s former fisheries minister has had his jail sentence for corruption slashed by nearly half after an appeals court ruled that he had “done good work” while in office — specifically pointing to a policy that he abused to collect nearly $2 million in kickbacks.

Edhy Prabowo was arrested in November 2020 on suspicion that he had farmed out lucrative contracts for lobster larvae exports to various companies in exchange for bribes. He was subsequently tried, and in July 2021, convicted of corruption and sentenced to five years in prison. He appealed the ruling, but the Jakarta High Court in November 2021 extended his sentence to nine years.

Following a second appeal, the Supreme Court on March 9 reduced Edhy’s sentence back to five years, prompting criticism from fisheries observers who said it failed to reflect the severity of Edhy’s crime.

“Edhy Prabowo is a corruptor who abused his position as the minister of marine affairs and fisheries by issuing a policy to make a profit in an illegal way,” Susan Herawati, secretary-general of the Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), said in a statement sent to Mongabay. “Corruption by strategic officers is an extraordinary crime. The punishment for the suspects should be defended or even increased, instead of being discounted and given leniency.”

Lobster larvae seized from a failed smuggling attempt. Image by Suryadi/Mongabay Indonesia.

But the Supreme Court judges said the Jakarta High Court had considered only the aggravating circumstances of Edhy’s crime and not the mitigating ones when it ruled to give him a longer sentence.

“What were the mitigating circumstances? The fact that the defendant, as the fisheries minister, did good work and gave great hope to the people, especially fishers,” court spokesman Andi Samsan Nganro said as quoted by local media.

In this case, the “great hope,” Andi said, was the lifting of a ban on lobster larvae exports — the very same policy that Edhy exploited to hand out export permits to companies linked to his political party cronies in exchange for 25.7 billion rupiah ($1.9 million) in bribes.

The export ban had been imposed by Edhy’s predecessor, Susi Pudjiastuti, in an effort to protect Indonesia’s wild lobster stocks from being overharvested. But following Edhy’s decision to resume exports, fisheries industry watchers and investigative reporting found the selection of approved exporters was rife with nepotism and cronyism.

Lobster larvae from Indonesia are typically sold to buyers in Vietnam, Singapore and China, where they can be raised and sold when mature at much higher prices. Lobsters are among Indonesia’s most lucrative fisheries commodities, but the illegal export of lobster larvae cost the country 900 billion rupiah ($62 million)  in lost revenue in 2019 alone, according to the PPATK, the government’s anti-money-laundering watchdog.

Conservationists and policymakers say illegal exports of lobster larvae pose a major threat to wild populations. The fisheries ministry puts the latest estimate of potential wild lobster stock in Indonesian waters at 27 billion. But the National Commission for Fisheries Resources Research (Komnas Kajiskan) reported in 2016 that lobsters in six out of 11 fisheries management areas in Indonesia were overfished, while the rest were being harvested at maximum capacity.

Disgraced former fisheries minister Edhy Prabowo during a visit to a fishing port during his stint in office. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

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