Indonesia's religious minister resigns over pilgrimage graft case

JAKARTA Mon May 26, 2014 4:54am EDT

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's religious minister, a prominent supporter of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, has resigned after being named a suspect in a corruption case over funds set aside for the main Muslim pilgrimage.

State Secretary Sudi Silalahi told reporters on Monday that Suryadharma Ali had informed the president he was stepping down.

"The president asked Suryadharma to give him a formal letter of resignation in the next one to two days for his consideration," Silalahi said.

Ali, however, remains head of the Islamic party PPP which has thrown its support behind Prabowo in the July 9 election to choose the next leader of Indonesia, home to the world's biggest Muslim population.

Last Thursday, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) imposed a six-month travel ban on Ali while it investigates allegations he was involved in embezzling state funds allocated for the haj pilgrimage.

Of the country's four main Islamic-based parties, three support Prabowo. Another was linked to a corruption case last year involving imported beef.

The corruption scandal is the latest to hit the ministry, which was caught up in graft charges last year involving the procurement of copies of the Koran.

Despite a string of successes by the anti-graft agency, corruption remains endemic in Indonesia.

Ex-general Prabowo is running for the presidency against the popular Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Recent opinion polls show Jokowi is easily the frontrunner but that his lead is narrowing.

Ali is the second minister in the cabinet of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to be implicated in a corruption scandal.

The sports minister was forced to step down in 2012 after being detained by the KPK in connection with a graft case involving construction of a sports complex. He is currently on trial.

(Reporting by Jakarta bureau, writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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