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Top Indonesia graft buster warns on risk of spike in corruption

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By Reuters
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By Stanley Widianto and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – An Indonesian anti-corruption investigator, who was partially blinded in an acid attack in 2017, said on Friday a new law governing the country’s anti-graft agency could unleash a spike in corruption in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

In September, Indonesia’s parliament approved changes to a law overseeing the Corruption Eradication Commission, one of the country’s most respected agencies, setting off protests, led by students and activists.

Under the new law, the agency, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, will be overseen by an Oversight Council, handpicked by President Joko Widodo, and investigators will lose their right to wiretap suspects without a warrant.

“The trend of corruption will increase,” Novel Baswedan said in an interview with Reuters, arguing the new law increased the potential for leaks over investigations.

Nonetheless, Baswedan said he still hoped Widodo would issue a regulation to restore the KPK’s powers, something which Widodo appeared to rule out last month.

“If all chances are gone, I will resign,” said Baswedan.

President Widodo has previously denied compromising the fight against graft and said an external board was necessary for “good governance”, though he said he would pick the members and they would include researchers and anti-corruption activists, not politicians or bureaucrats.

KPK’s independence as an institution is becoming questionable,” Baswedan said.

Baswedan said morale at the KPK was starting to drop with resignations among its once-independent employees, who are now required to become civil servants and need to be seconded from other state agencies, including the police.

“When I joined KPK and I saw great hope here, all of a sudden the fact is that I have seen the hope flicker and eventually disappear.”

The KPK has jailed a string of high-ranking officials since its inception in 2002, but Indonesians still have to contend with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives.

Transparency International placed the Southeast Asian nation 89th among 180 countries in its annual corruption perceptions index last year.

Baswedan criticised a failure by authorities to find the culprits of an attack on him, which he believes was linked to graft cases he was handling. He has undergone multiple surgeries on his eyes since acid was flung in his face while he was walking home from a mosque in April 2017.

In January, police formed a fact-finding team to investigate the attack, but it came up empty-handed and Widodo has ordered a new national police chief appointed in November to resolve the case by this month.

“It’s easy to solve my case,” he said. “It’s just the matter of whether they want to or not.”

(Editing by Ed Davies & Simon Cameron-Moore)