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Indonesia’s top Muslim body has come under criticism after facing accusations of getting bribes from Australian halal certification companies, a charge vehemently denied by Indonesian scholars.
“It’s common knowledge in Australia that in order to get authorization you have to bribe Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) officials,” Mohamed el-Mouelhy, president of the Sydney-based Halal Certification Authority, told Tempo Magazine on Monday, February 24.
The controversy surrounding MUI was first highlighted following reports that different Australian companies had to pay bribes to the Indonesian certification authority to get halal certificate.
The concept of halal, — meaning permissible in Arabic — has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
According to Australian Halah Food Services (AHFS), a Melbourne-based business, hey paid bribes to senior officials from MUI to renew their license to certify abattoirs as halal.
These bribes range from smaller payments of AUD $3000 (around Rp. 31 million) to AUD $10,000 put directly in the bank account of MUI Chairman Amidhan Shaberah.
El-Mouelhy added that he had to pay AUD $26,000 to seven MUI officials during a visit to Australia in 2006, of which “the largest share” went to Amidhan, he said.
But, he did not receive authorization.
Another related scandal was revealed by a former financial manager in an Australian certification institute who said that his institute had paid Aus$50,000 to get MUI halal lenience.
“Back then, MUI threatened to withdraw our license,” the manager said to Tempo in Melbourne a few weeks ago.
Facing a flood of accusations, MUI officials have denied the charges, asserting that the halal certification should be free of charge.
“We do not have cash for making the visit,” said LPPOM Director at MUI Lukmanul Hakim.
Hakim has also refuted profiteering allegations, saying that they “charge the host authority to cover the visit expenses”.
Meanwhile, Chief of Indonesia Ulema Counsel (MUI), Amidhan Shaberah, noted that “halal certification should be free of charge”.
Shaberah added that the same term should be applied to all halal certification institutes in other countries.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim state where Muslims make up 86.1 percent of Indonesia’s 235 million population.
The Ulema council, established in 1975, has carved a key role for itself in the Muslim country.
The accusations have sparked outcry among the Indonesians who slammed MUI monopoly of the halal industry deeming its conduct as “haram”.
“Heart & conduct must be halal too,” Rudy, an Indonesian Twitter user posted, Australian Associated Press reported.