MATARAM, Indonesia - Indonesia is to investigate the illegal sale of 13 islands in the latest of a series of corruption scandals in one of Asia's most popular tourist destinations, officials said Thursday.
The National Land Agency (BPN) has been accused of giving ownership papers for the islets off Lombok island, near Bali, to a number of individuals and companies, West Lombok administration spokesman Ispan Junaidi told AFP.
Junaedi said the islets -- diving and snorkelling hotspots with huge coral reefs teeming with marine wildlife -- include Gili Renggit, Gili Tangkong and Gili Nanggu, which is dotted with pristine beaches and is known locally as the "Paradise Island".
West Lombok BPN chief Udin Syafrudin denied that his office had issued the ownership certificates.
"We've never issued that kind of papers. Some may make investment on the islands by building resorts, but not owning the land, and this is not against the law," he said.
An official from the provincial prosecutor's office who didn't want to be named said the islands covered almost 150 hectares (370.6 acres), adding that foreign companies claimed ownership of 16 hectares on Gili Tangkong and Gili Renggit.
Indonesia scored 2.8 out of 10 in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010, ranking it 110th out of 178 countries.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has won two elections on a graft-fighting platform but few people now believe he has what it takes to tackle the nefarious forces that control the country's judiciary.
A recent report by the Indonesian Survey Institute showed the public's perception of the war on corruption was nose-diving.