Indonesia: Former Health Minister Behind Bird Flu Conspiracy Theories Detained for Bribery

A former Indonesian health minister who courted international controversy by withholding bird flu samples from scientists at the height of a global pandemic scare was arrested Monday for allegedly receiving kickbacks from a company selling crucial medical supplies to deal with the virus.

KPKKPK headquarters in Jakarta (Photo: Serenity, GFDL)Siti Fadilah Supari was detained and named a suspect by Indonesia’s independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on allegations of receiving 1.37 billion rupiah (US$ 105,425) in traveler’s checks in return for awarding a contract to medical supplier Prasasti Mitra in 2007.

Mark-ups by the company are believed to have led to 6.8 billion rupiah in state losses, local newspaper the Jakarta Globe reported.

Siti caused alarm around the world during the bird flu crisis in 2007 and 2008 by refusing to hand over samples of the H5N1 virus to the World Health Organization (WHO), claiming that the international organization and the United States were engaged in a conspiracy to produce biological weapons and profit from the spread of the disease.

Indonesia’s KPK is among the Southeast Asian country’s most trusted institutions. The agency operates independently of the country’s notoriously corrupt police, prosecutors and courts and enjoys wide ranging powers including the ability to conduct warrantless wiretapping.