İrem UZUN -TDO- Indonesian Minister of Social Affairs Juliari Batubara was arrested on Saturday for allegedly taking $1.2 million in bribes linked to food aid for those hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Anti-corruption agents discovered more than 14.5 billion rupiah ($1m) stuffed into suitcases and other containers and arrested four suspects during a raid on Saturday. Juliari turned himself in on Saturday at the agency’s headquarters in Jakarta.

"That's the people's money... it's aid urgently needed to help during Covid-19 and for the national economic recovery," President Joko Widodo said after Juliari’s arrest, vowing he would not protect any corrupt officials. Widodo said he had continually warned ministers and regional leaders to avoid corruption and close loopholes for graft. Indonesia's economy -- Southeast Asia's biggest -- has been hit hard by the pandemic, and the government has rolled out aid programmes such as food packages to help those in need.

Juliari, a politician with the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, was appointed a minister in October 2019. If found guilty, Juliari could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of one billion rupiah ($70,000). He is the second minister under Widodo's second term administration to be implicated in a corruption case.  On November 25, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo was arrested for alleged corruption related to his ministry's decision to lift a ban on lobster larvae exports.

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