Makassar – Law authorities in South Sulawesi have been investigating the disappearance of some 500 tons of rice from a warehouse belonging to the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) for more than a month and finally on Monday they detained two high-profile suspects.
The South Sulawesi prosecutors' office said the head of Bulog's local branch identified as Radityo Putra Sikado was named corruption suspect along with Muh Idris, who is in charge of the agency's warehouse in the district of Pinrang.
"Both men have played a role in the release of rice disregarding the existing procedures," Soetarmi, a spokesman for the provincial prosecutors' office, was quoted by Kompas news website as saying.
In late November, Radityo told reporters that he had "lent" half a million kilograms of rice to trading company Sabang Merauke Persada so that the warehouse could receive additional supplies necessary to "stabilize rice prices" in local markets.
While admitting that he had violated operating procedures, Radityo insisted that what he did was a "common practice".
"Before I took office, it's possible that the Bulog warehouse in Pinrang had previously lent its rice to a third party like what I did," Radityo said.
"I simply happened to have bad luck. If there was no breach of contract by the third party, this would have been just fine," he said, referring to the trading company.
He also claimed that before the company failed to pay for the rice or returned it to the agency, it had been involved in a mutually beneficial partnership with Bulog.
His arrest came around two weeks after prosecutors detained a businessman identified only as Irfan, the owner of Sabang Merauke Persada.
Like the Bulog official, Irfan denied any wrongdoing before being named a suspect and said that he would "tell everything honestly" when he came to the prosecutors' office without a lawyer a day before his arrest on December 14.
It remains unclear if he already sold the entire Bulog rice handed to him by Radityo.
Prosecutors estimated that the rice steal scandal cost the state Rp 5.4 billion ($347,000) in lost revenue.
Bulog has a unique task of stabilizing the price of basic commodities, most importantly rice which becomes the staple food for the country's population, by keeping it affordable to low-income families but not too cheap to allow local farmers to reap some profit from the domestic rice market.
Its headquarters in Jakarta is led by a presidential appointee, currently retired police general Budi Waseso.