Wed, 12 Mar 2003

N. Sumatra Police name 16 suspects in Rp 2 billion refugee aid scam

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

The North Sumatra Police have named 16 people as suspects in the alleged embezzlement of Rp 2 billion (US$225,225) in resettlement funds for refugees from Aceh in North Sumatra.

Head of the Binjai, North Sumatra social affairs agency Syamsul Bahri tops the list of suspects, which also includes five subdistrict heads in Langkat regency and two local journalists. Five of them are in police custody for investigation purposes.

Spokesman for the provincial police Sr. Comr. Amrin Karim said on Tuesday the suspects were suspected of collaborating in the theft of a portion of the Rp 105 billion in state funds allocated for 12,000 families who fled conflict-torn Aceh. Most of the refugees are Javanese transmigrants.

He said the police named the suspects after questioning 35 witnesses.

"There is a possibility for us to name new suspects, depending on our findings during the investigation," Amrin said.

Police had begun the investigation into the alleged fund misuse following reports from a joint team comprising the provincial inspectorate and the internal audit agency.

The alleged embezzlement has prompted the Ministry of Social Affairs to stop disbursing the resettlement fund, which amounts to Rp 8.75 million for each family. So far 7,643 families have received the fund, some of them preferred to begin a new life in Riau.

Many of the refugees said they would not return to Aceh, where peace has begun to return, after experiencing trauma and accusations of collaboration with Jakarta in the Acehnese struggle. The armed conflict between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in the natural resource- rich province has claimed over 10,000 lives.

The suspension of resettlement funds left 4,357 refugee families waiting for the aid. Around 600 disgruntled families have been camping out on the compounds of the gubernatorial office and the provincial legislature over the past week to demand their money.

"We will stay here until the government sets a certain date for us to receive the fund," Sugiono, one of the refugees who fled East Aceh to Langkat in North Sumatra, said.

The head of provincial social affairs office, Silvester Lase, said Governor T. Rizal Nurdin had written Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah twice to ask him to disburse the balance of the resettlement fund. No response has been forthcoming from the minister, Silvester said.

"We can do nothing to help the refugees, because the money comes from Jakarta," Silvester said.

He promised tough measures against officials under his supervision who were involved in the scandal.