Category: Crime

Indonesia shines a light on dishonest Umrah operators

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has revamped its supervision of Umrah tour operators and imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses to new ones as of April.

The moratorium was imposed as a major Umrah scam case, which cost 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims a combined loss of 848.70 billion rupiah ($60 million), was being heard at a court near Jakarta.

On May 30, the Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who made a name for herself after her modest fashion collection was debuted internationally in London and showcased at New York Fashion Week in Sep 2016, during which “her works received eminent applause,” according to the fashion week’s website.

“We are reviewing the 906 Umrah tour operators currently listed in the ministry. We have also revoked licenses of four operators so far this year,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

“The minister of religious affairs has also issued a ministerial regulation which details new rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by, such as the price reference should be at least 20 million rupiah ($1,428) and customers should be able to go to Makkah no longer than six months since they made their first payments,” Mastuki added.

Sobandi, the presiding judge, also gave Anniesa and her husband Andika a 10-billion-rupiah fine each on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Mastuki said the verdicts are proper punishments that everyone has to accept.

“Justice has been served, despite the consequences and losses that their customers suffered,” he said.

Through a Jakarta-based travel agency, which they had established in 2009, First Travel, Anniesa and Andika used to offer a cheap Umrah package, which cost about 14.3 million rupiah ($1,000) and was $300 cheaper than a normal package would cost.

“The defendants had known from the start that the 14.3-million-rupiah package per person would not be enough to send a customer to perform Umrah,” Yulinda Trimurti, a member of the panel of judges, said during the hearing.

Anniesa Hasibuan-facebook
Photo: Facebook/Anniesa Hasibuan Official

The pair, whose lavish lifestyle was on full display on their social media accounts, had promised customers who paid in full that they could go to Makkah for Umrah in a year.

But customers’ complaints began to arise and were made public after a group of would-be pilgrims failed to depart to Makkah in March 2017 and the travel agent could not give an estimated schedule of when they could eventually go.

From December 2016 to May 2017, there were 72,682 Umrah hopefuls signed up for the cheap package that First Travel offered, but the company was only able to send 14,000 customers to Saudi Arabia.

The pair also owed 24 billion rupiah ($1.7 million) to three hotels in Makkah and Madinah.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs revoked First Travel’s license as an Umrah operator in early August last year and later in the month, the police named the pair and Anniesa’s younger sister Siti Nuraidah Hasibuan as suspects and charged them with fraud and money laundering. Siti Nuraidah, also known as Kiki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same court.

Anniesa had been listed among Forbes Indonesia’s 2017 Inspiring Women earlier last year before the fraud case became public. But later in August, the magazine announced on its official Facebook page that it has removed her from the list.

“Forbes Indonesia endorses ethical business practices and wish to inspire others to achieve their success through ethical means of doing business,” the magazine said.

The police are now investigating a similar case involving a Makassar-based Umrah tour operator Abu Tour. Mastuki said Abu Tour’s case was similar to First Travel, which gained customers through Ponzi-scheme promotions and cheap packages.

“Initially there were about 80,000 prospective pilgrims who couldn’t go, but some have been remedied and sent on Umrah trips through other operators,” he added.

The long waiting list for Indonesians to go on Hajj, which could extend for more than two decades, has created a lucrative market for Umrah tour operators in the world’s largest Muslim population country to send pilgrim hopefuls to Makkah.

Read the full story in Arab News

Saudi couple meet Indonesian maid they forgave for murder of their child

A Saudi couple from Tabuk have met the Indonesian domestic helper they pardoned after she was sentenced to death for murdering their 11-month-old child in 2009.

Ghalib Nasir Al-Hamri Al-Balawi and his wife arrived in Indonesia on May 3 for a week-long stay, which included a visit to Cirebon in West Java to meet Masamah bint Raswa Sanusi and her family.

“I didn’t seek for anything else by giving her pardon but God’s mercy,” Al-Balawi said through a translator during a press conference at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta on Monday.

He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality showed by Indonesia during their first visit to the country.

Arief Hidayat, an official from the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Protection of Indonesian Citizens Abroad, said that the couple’s visit was facilitated by the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah in appreciation of the couple’s compassion and willingness to forgive Masamah.

“We took them to Cirebon by train and they were greeted by the acting Cirebon district head upon arrival,” Hidayat said, adding that they also took the couple to the safari park in Cisarua in the mountainous Puncak area, a popular destination for tourists from Middle Eastern countries.

Masamah’s lengthy trial began in 2009 after local authorities accused her of murdering Al-Balawi’s child after they found her fingerprints on the baby’s face.

Masamah has always maintained her innocence and said that she only rubbed the baby’s face after she found it unconscious. She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 but the district attorney appealed and she was sentenced to death in 2016.

During her appeal trial in March 2017, Al-Balawi pardoned her and decided not to demand blood money, but Masamah still had to serve the remaining two and a half years of her prison sentence.

She was released from prison in January and stayed at the consulate general’s shelter until she was cleared to leave and return to Indonesia in March.

Al-Balawi and his wife’s visit came after the execution of an Indonesian national who had been working as a driver, Muhammad Zaini Misrin on March 18 after a court has found him guilty of murdering his employer in 2005. The news of Misrin’s execution caused a national outrage.

The Indonesian government said they didn’t received notification prior to his execution and said that the execution was untimely as Misrin was undergoing another legal avenue to have his case reviewed.

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Osamah bin Mohammad Al-Shuaibi said the Saudi authorities had done their part to inform the Indonesian embassy about Misrin’s execution including a notification on the day of the execution before it was carried out.

“What we need to do now is inform those who want to visit Saudi Arabia about the law and that they have to follow the rules in Saudi Arabia. It is our duty to explain to them,” Al Shuaibi said.

“We have to respect the laws in our respective countries,” he added.

Hidayat said there are 20 Indonesians on death row in Saudi prisons and Indonesian officials in Saudi Arabia were making sure that their legal rights were met.

“But it would not annul the crimes that they committed,” he added.

This article has been expanded from its original version in Arab News

Indonesia slapped Facebook with second warning letter over data leak

Facebook was slapped on Tuesday with a second warning letter by Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology for having improperly shared Indonesian data users with political consultant Cambridge Analytica.

In a statement posted on its website, the ministry said it warned Facebook again in the letter, which was signed by the ministry’s Information Applications Director General Semuel Pangerapan, to explain the ministry how personal information from over a million Indonesian users have been used by a third-party application on Facebook.

The ministry gave Facebook the first warning letter during a meeting on Thursday, when Indonesia’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Rudiantara summoned the company’s representatives to his office, after Facebook disclosed in a blog post on Wednesday that a large number of Indonesian users’ data had been shared with Cambridge Analytica.

In the meeting, Rudiantara said he asked them to provide the ministry with their audit results to see how personal information of Indonesian users have been used and asked Facebook to block third-party applications from accessing Indonesian users’ personal data.

Rudiantara said he already got in touch with Facebook representatives in Indonesia when initial reports of Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged and gave them verbal warning over possible data breach of Indonesian users.

He called for Indonesian users to “temporarily fast from using social media. If they really have to use it, please be really careful when sharing personal data.”

According to the chart in the post, written by Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer, Indonesia and two other Southeast Asian countries the Philippines and Vietnam are among the top ten countries whose citizens’ personal data may have been harvested for Cambridge Analytica’s inappropriate use.

The chart shows data of 1.75 million users in the Philippines, which is second to US users, could have been leaked, followed by Indonesia as third most-affected with more than a million users. Vietnam’s some 427,000 users, which ranked ninth in the chart, are believed to have also been affected.

Rudiantara said he has asked police to probe alleged violations of electronic information and transactions law on the misuse of Indonesia users’ data. If Facebook is found guilty of violations, its representatives in Indonesia could face a maximum 12 years in prison and a fine of up to 12 billion Indonesian rupiah.

A Facebook spokesperson said they are strongly committed to protecting people’s information, and intend to make all the same privacy controls and settings available everywhere. They also said it has recently taken significant steps to make their privacy tools easier to find, restrict data access on Facebook, and make their terms and data policy clearer.

The spokesperson said the company believes these changes will better protect people’s information and they will keep the community updated as they make more change, and continue to work with privacy and information commissioners, and authorities, in Indonesia.

Indonesians are among the world’s most active social media users, consistently remain among the top five countries with the largest number Facebook users.

A survey conducted from Oct. to Nov. 2017 by the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association and the Indonesian Telecommunications Society showed Facebook is the second most popular social media applications on smartphones, according to 66.5 percent respondents, after Instagram which is owned by Facebook, with 82.6 percent respondents.

The survey was conducted across the country, involving 1,020 respondents, more than half were high school and university students, followed by professionals and entrepreneurs.

The survey also showed 79 percent respondents object to having their personal data being transferred to another party without their consent. Almost all respondents, or 98 percent, said they acknowledged personal data shared online should be protected and that the government should issue a legislation regulating protection of personal data shared online.

Rudiantara said this data leak case calls for a momentum for lawmakers to start deliberating a government-sponsored personal data protection bill and pass it into law. In the absence of such a law, data protection is currently guaranteed by a 2016 ministerial decree.

He added despite the importance of having personal data protection law, the bill had failed to be listed in the House of Representatives’ 2018 National Legislation Program.

“I hope this users’ data breach case could push for the bill to be eventually included in this year’s national legislation program,” he said.

This story has been updated from its original version in Arab News

Indonesian braces for greater environmental damage as oil slick widens

Indonesian authorities have launched a massive cleanup operation off the coast of Balikpapan, the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, where an oil slick from a ruptured undersea pipeline has sprawled to 20,000 hectares, contaminating mangrove forest and marine life.

Satellite images from state space agency LAPAN showed in just two days since the initial oil slick was detected on Mar. 31, the spill has sprawled to 13,559 hectare on Apr. 2 from 12,987 hectare on the previous day.

According to the Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Ministry, by Apr. 5 the spill has sprawled to 20,000 hectares, Kompas newspaper reported.

“Now it would take months to recover from the environmental damage,” Arifsyah Nasution, a marine campaigner from Greenpeace Indonesia said.

Environmental activists in Balikpapan have team up to collect evidence and assess the environmental damage, which Nasution said the public can later use as a comparison to assessment made by government agencies.

Balikpapan city administration has declared a state of emergency as locals’ livelihoods suffer. The oil spill claimed the lives of five fishermen when it ignited on fire on Mar. 31 and killed at least an Irrawaddy dolphin, a rare and protected species.

State-owned oil company Pertamina, which at first denied the leak was its fault, acknowledged that the spill had come from its undersea pipelines, located 22 to 26 meters below the sea.

“The crude oil leaked from one of the pipelines that was dragged more than 100 meter from its location,” Yudi Nugraha, a spokesman for Pertamina operations in Balikpapan said.

The company said the steel pipelines, which distribute crude oil from the Lawe-Lawe Terminal to its refinery in Balikpapan are 20 years old and that only external forces can dragged them as far as 100 meter.

Greenpeace’s Nasution said the crisis could have been minimized if Pertamina had responded more quickly.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry said the likely culprit is a Panama-flagged coal ship that dropped its anchor in Balikpapan Bay, dragging one of the pipelines and causing it to rupture.

The ministry’s oil and gas director general Djoko Siswanto said ships are not permitted to drop anchor on that part of the bay where the pipelines are installed.

Environmental and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has dispatched ministry officials to Balikpapan, an oil and mining hub in the island of Borneo, to spearhead the cleanup effort and to assess the adverse impact on the bay’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Pertamina has deployed 15 cleaning vessels.

Siti Nurbaya said the ministry team will measure the length of the coastline impacted by the spill. They found that it has so far polluted 34 hectare mangrove wetlands in Kariangau village and 6,000 mangrove trees in another village.

“We have asked Pertamina to prioritize cleaning the oil slick in waters close to human settlements to get rid of the oil’s nauseating smell and other imminent health hazards,” Siti Nurbaya said.

The team also collected oil booms, or temporary floating barriers, from oil companies operating in the region to contain the oil spill and by late Wednesday, the team has collected up to 70 meter cubic oil slick.

“We are coordinating with the police, which will launch a criminal investigation into the case. The forestry ministry will assist in determining the loss suffered by locals and the compensation for those affected,” Rasio Ridho Sani, forestry ministry’s director general for law enforcement said.

Octavinus, a search and rescue official in Balikpapan said locals began to see oil slick floating on the waters on Mar. 31 midnight and it was sparked on fire before noon, burning two fishing boats.

An operation was immediately dispatched to rescue the fishermen and by Apr. 3,  Octavianus said they found one of the boats completely burned and all bodies of five fishermen killed in the fire.

“A coal barge with 20 crew on board was sailing by but the barge was only slightly damaged and the whole crew is safe,” he said.

The original story was published in Arab News

Indonesia’s House speaker evades arrest in graft case

The speaker of Indonesia’s parliament has evaded an attempt by the country’s anti-corruption commission to arrest him as a suspect in a huge graft case, the commission said.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has accused House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto of corruption in a 440-million-dollar project to make electronic ID cards during the previous government.

Investigators came to Novanto’s house late Wednesday with an arrest warrant but he was nowhere to be found, said KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah.

“We’re still looking for him, but we don’t know where he is,” Diansyah said.

Novanto’s lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said his wife did not know where he was.

“The family is very worried but there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Losses to the state as a result of corruption in the project are estimated at 2.3 trillion rupiah (172 million dollars), according to the commission.

Novanto is also the chairman of the Golkar Party, a member of the ruling coalition, and an ally of President Joko Widodo.

KPK first named Novanto a suspect in the case in August but a court ruled there was insufficient initial evidence to justify the step in a pre-trial decision.

Last week, the commission again formally named him a suspect.

A wealthy businessman himself, Novanto met US President Donald Trump in September 2015, while the latter was campaigning for the presidency, to discuss investment in Indonesia.

After Trump came to power, President Joko tasked Novanto with establishing a rapport with the new US administration.

Novanto has denied any wrongdoing.

Two officials at the Home Affairs Ministry have been sentenced to seven and five years in prison in the case, while a businessman is also on trial.

More than 30 members of parliament from the 2004-09 period, plus a former Home Affairs minister, have been implicated in the case.

In April, a top investigator for the anti-corruption commission investigating the case, Novel Baswedan, had acid thrown in his face by two attackers.

He is still being treated in a Singapore hospital. Nobody has yet been arrested for the crime.

Indonesia’s anti-drug chief wants ghosts as prison guards

Frustrated by rampant drug trade in prisons, Indonesia’s anti-drugs chief has suggested that jails be guarded by ghosts because they cannot be bribed, reports said Wednesday.  Continue reading “Indonesia’s anti-drug chief wants ghosts as prison guards”