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Top Indonesia graft buster warns on risk of spike in corruption

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JAKARTA (Reuters) – An Indonesian anti-corruption investigator, who was partially blind in an acid attack in 2017, said on Friday a new law governing the country's anti-hydration agency could trigger an increase in corruption in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

In September, the Indonesian parliament passed changes to a law overseeing the Corruption Eradication Commission, one of the country's most respected agencies, starting protests, led by students and activists.

Under the new law, the agency, known for its Indonesian initials KPK, will be overseen by a Supervisory Board, handpicked by President Joko Widodo, and investigators will lose their right to listen to suspects without a warrant.

"The tendency for corruption will increase," Novel Baswedan told Reuters in an interview, arguing that the new law increases the potential for investigative leaks.

However, Baswedan said he still expected Widodo to issue a regulation to restore KPK's powers, something Widodo seemed to rule out last month.

"If all chances are gone, I will resign," said Baswedan.

President Widodo previously denied commitment to the fight against corruption and said an outside council for "good governance" was needed, although he said he would choose members and include anti-corruption, non-political or bureaucratic researchers and activists.

"The independence of the KPK as an institution is becoming questionable," said Baswedan.

Baswedan said morale at the KPK was starting to drop with layoffs among its formerly independent employees, who now need to become civil servants and need to be seconded from other state agencies, including the police.

"When I joined KPK and saw high hopes here, suddenly I saw hope shake and eventually disappear."

The KPK has arrested a number of senior officials since its inception in 2002, but Indonesians still have to deal with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives.

Transparency International ranked the Southeast Asian nation 89th out of 180 countries in its annual corruption perception index last year.

The story goes on

Baswedan criticized the authorities' failure to find the culprits of an attack on him, which he believes was related to corruption cases he was dealing with. He has undergone several eye surgeries since acid was thrown on his face as he returned home from a mosque in April 2017.

In January, police formed an investigation team to investigate the attack, but it came empty-handed and Widodo ordered a new national police chief appointed in November to resolve the case by this month.

"It's easy to solve my case," he said. "It's just a matter of wanting or not." (Edition by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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