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Indonesia’s charity law in spotlight over Lion Air crash scam

Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia’s charity law is in the spotlight after the head of a Muslim charity was found guilty of misappropriating $7.8 million from a fund set up by Boeing for accident victims. 2018 Lion Air crash.

Ahyudin, president of the charity Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT), was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on Tuesday. Prosecutors were seeking four years in prison for Ahyudin, who, like many Indonesians, he goes by one name.

In media interviews shortly after his arrest, Ahyudin admitted that the charity had regularly cut more than 13% of donations, rather than the 10% required by Indonesian law. , said he receives a monthly salary of more than $16,000 and admitted to regularly borrowing funds from the ACT to pay for real estate, cars and furniture.

Former ACT Chairman Ibnu Khajar was sentenced to three years in prison, and former Operations Vice President Hariyana Hermain was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The ruling provoked mixed reactions among victims and advocates.

Agung Sedayu, a journalist at Indonesian independent media Tempo, who reported the ACT embezzlement after complaints from victims, said he didn’t think the punishment was enough.

“From the beginning, there were indications that Ayuddin would get a lighter sentence,” Sedayu told Al Jazeera.

“There were many irregularities in the legal process. Not all cases of ACT fraud allegations were admitted in court, and the more serious charges related to money laundering were not pursued by the prosecution.”

After Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed in October 2018 and March 2019, respectively, killing 346 people in total, Boeing has set up a fund as part of reconciliation with the victims’ families. .

Boeing’s 737 Max airplane flight control system, known as MCAS, found to be faulty For both crashes.

Billed by Boeing as a way to “empower families who have lost loved ones to support charities in affected communities,” the fund will consist of $50 million, of which $9.2 million will be donated in Indonesia. Commissioned by ACT to do community work.

Two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 have been attributed to flaws in the flight control systems of Boeing 737s. [File: Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters]

The misuse of ACT came to light after recipients of the funds began to suspect mishandling by the charity.

Nois Malhua, whose 23-year-old daughter Vivian Hasna Afifa died in the Lion Air crash, said she trusted the charity to build the school in her daughter’s name.

However, when Marhua visits the school site, she finds the construction work to be of poor quality and using cheap materials.

“I hope this ruling will act as a deterrent and show that we all must be accountable for our actions, not only in this life but in the hereafter,” Malfua told Al Jazeera. As a learning experience for those involved.

Bambang, a former ACT employee who asked to be called by his first name, said he was not surprised by the sentence given to the convicted staffer.

“I think it was appropriate and normal,” he told Al Jazeera.

Bambang said he doesn’t know how the former members of the ACT viewed Ahyudin since the organization was disbanded.

“But in my opinion there will still be those who support him and those who don’t,” he said.

Hamid Abidin, director of the Indonesian Charity Association, said the convictions show law enforcement takes misuse of charity funds seriously, but the law should be revised to punish such crimes more severely. Said it needed to be updated.

“The law regulating charities was enacted in 1961 and is in dire need of revision and improvement,” Abidin told Al Jazeera.

“We also need to promote donor education in Indonesia. Many donors do not know that they have the right to ask where their donations go or to request a report on how their money is spent. .”

Lion Air Victim
The embezzlement of ACT funds came to light after the families of the victims of Lion Air Flight 610 began to suspect philanthropic misconduct. [File: Fauzy Chaniago/AP Photo]

Garnadi Waranda Dharmaputra, an attorney focused on economic law and founder of the “Smart Giving” campaign to teach the public how to better manage charitable giving, described the ACT case as “the tip of the iceberg”. expressed.

“We know thousands of other organizations that are misappropriating funds. They may not be as sophisticated as the ACT, but the problem is the same,” Dharmaputra told Al Jazeera, referring to Indonesia’s He cited transparency, accountability and good governance as some of the key challenges in regulating charities.

During its heyday 2018-2020, ACT was the largest charity of its kind in Indonesia, raising $36 million in public donations over the past two years. Last July, Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency said it was investigating the transfer of funds by the ACT to members of the armed group al-Qaeda, which emerged after a Tempo investigation into misappropriated funds from Boeing. .

last year, US Treasury announces sanctions Indonesian charity World Human Care (WHC) has allegedly raised and provided funds to Syrian hardline groups under the guise of humanitarian aid.

In 2021, Indonesian authorities arrested dozens of charity members. The group that masterminded the Bali bombings 2002.

Dharmaputra said he is now lobbying the government to update the decades-old law, but believes the law is not fit for purpose given the evolving nature of crime. rice field.

“We are on the right track, but I am concerned about how serious Indonesia is about the problem of regulating charities,” he said.

“We seem to be lagging behind on this issue, but the ACT case has proven it’s a real issue.”

A Boeing representative declined to comment.

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