Garuda airline chief to be sacked over smuggled Harley-Davidson

Indonesia will also fine the carrier for violating aviation laws

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, second from right, and Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Eric Thohir, right, inspect a Harley Davidson motorcycle found by customs officials on a Garuda Indonesia's new Airbus A330-900 being delivered from France, prior to the start of a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Thohir said he will fire and seek the prosecution of the head of the national airline after he was implicated in the smuggling the motorcycle into the country on the new jet. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Indonesia will fine flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia for violating aviation rules after its chief executive was accused of smuggling a Harley-Davidson motorcycle onboard a new plane, state news agency Antara cited the transport minister as saying.

A day earlier, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said Chief executive Ari Askhara would be dismissed over the allegations.

"We have sent a letter to fine Garuda because it carried items without including them in the cargo list," Transportation Minister Budi Karya was quoted as saying on Friday.

He did not say how much the airline would be fined, but said that although the incident was not on a commercial flight, cargo must be listed.

Mr Askhara is accused of trying to evade tax on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle worth $57,000 that was found on the plane. Two expensive bicycles were also discovered.

Mr Thohir said that an initial investigation found a Garuda employee in Amsterdam helped pay for the motorbike and assisted in the delivery.

He said the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry would continue to investigate.

epa08046748 (FILE) - Indonesian national airline Garuda Indonesia's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ari Askhara speaks during a launch for a new boarding pass, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 02 October 2019 (issued 05 December 2019). Media reports state on 05 December 2019 that the CEO of the national airlines has been sacked for allegedly trying to smuggle a classic 1972 Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a Garuda A330-900neo flight into the country last month.  EPA/GAGAH JATMIKO

Chief financial officer Fuad Rizal will take over as acting chief executive of Garuda, the company said in a statement on Friday, until a shareholders' meeting to appoint a new chief is held "in the near future".

Even in a country used to frequent graft cases, the story of the smuggled bikes has stirred intense public interest.

Flower arrangements supporting the actions of the SOE Ministry have even been sent to its offices in Jakarta.

"We support the SOE Minister in the firing of Garuda Indonesia's chief executive," a tag on one of the arrangements read.

The airline's cabin crew union IKAGI welcomed the decision to remove the CEO.

Garuda's next chief would be its fourth in the last five years and the airline has been struggling to improve its profitability. In June, Indonesia's financial regulator ordered Garuda to "fix and restate" its 2018 financial results over accounting errors.