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Ex-head of Indonesia's constitutional court jailed for life for graft

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The former head of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court was sentenced to life in prison for corruption on Monday, the heaviest sentence ever for graft in what is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Indonesia's chief justice Akil Mochtar gestures during an interview at his office in Jakarta, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Akil Mochtar was arrested by the powerful Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) late last year for accepting bribes and money laundering in a local election dispute.

“Akil Mochtar got a life sentence today and this is the heaviest sentence (for corruption) that we have ever seen in Indonesia,” said KPK spokesman Johan Budi.

Mochtar’s case is one of a series of corruption scandals to hit the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In May, the religious affairs minister became the second cabinet minister to step down after being accused by the KPK of embezzling state funds allocated for the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Yudhoyono, first elected to office in 2004 partly on an anti-corruption platform, is serving his second and final term.

Indonesia is due to hold its third direct presidential election on July 9 - a tight, two-horse race between Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and ex-general Prabowo Subianto. Both candidates have pledged to strengthen the KPK if elected.

Indonesia ranked 114 out of 177 countries in a 2013 survey by corruption watchdog Transparency International, with parliament, police, and the judiciary perceived to be the most corrupt public institutions.

Before Mochtar’s case the Constitutional Court had gained a reputation for independence and transparency.

The court has the final say on elections and disputes about state institutions. In a landmark decision last year, it declared the regulator of the oil and gas industry unconstitutional, forcing the government to replace it with a new agency.

Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Randy Fabi and Robin Pomeroy