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Indonesian Police Sex-Murder Scandal Kicks Off Major Purge
Urge to clean up bad cops strengthens after police shooting scandal
Indonesia’s national police scandal, which started off in early July with salacious reports of a sexual affair between a high-ranking official’s wife and a driver that triggered a murder cover-up, has evolved into a full-scale mess involving dozens of officers including high-ranking ones and accusations of widespread abuse across the entire force including obstruction of justice and reports of a police mafia protecting gambling, prostitution, drug peddling, and a host of other crimes.
Given the evidence of endemic rot within the agency, it is unclear how it could be cleaned up without wholesale dismissals and the installation of reform officials from top to bottom. That seems unlikely. Nonetheless, pressure to clean up has ranged across Indonesian society all the way up to President Joko Widodo, who has told the chief, General Listyo Simit Prabowo, to immediately clean up the agency not just in relation to the incident but across the entire scope of its operations, and to punish officers who have deviated from their duties.
It is a remarkable turn of events for an institution that for decades has been riddled with corruption. A country risk report published by the Risk & Compliance Portal, a production of GAN Integrity, is typical, finding them “plagued by corruption, bribery is widespread, presenting companies with high risks.” Police officers, the report said, solicit bribes on every level, “ranging from traffic violations to criminal investigations. Two out of five people perceive most or all of the police to be corrupt and one in four Indonesians reports having paid a bribe to the police services in the past 12 months.”
The affair blew up on July 8 when Ferdy Sambo (above), a widely feared, powerful two-star general and former head of the internal affairs division, allegedly ordered his aide, Baradha Richard Eliezer to shoot dead another police officer, Brigadier Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat. The incident occurred at Sambo's official residence in Jakarta, was covered up for days, with Sambo devising the scenario as if a shootout had occurred between the two subordinates after Yosua was said to have been caught sexually harassing Sambo’s wife, Putri Chandrawati, who is shown below with other officers, holding onto Yosua’s sleeve in a Twitter post.
To support the scenario, Sambo called other agency officials and his fellow police officers for sympathy and defense. But later it was revealed that Sambo lied and was the mastermind behind all the crimes.
Dozens of police officers who initially helped Sambo obliterate evidence are now being tried for ethics violations and some have been transferred. At least 97 police officers from middle to high-ranking ones have been questioned on charges of obstruction of justice. Sambo underwent an ethics trial last week, which lasted 17 hours and was filled with sobbing witnesses. Sambo was dishonorably dismissed. All allegations of ethical violations committed by Sambo were proven to be true, including case engineering, the disappearance of evidence such as CCTV cameras, and obstructing the investigation process.
Taufik Basari, a member of Commission III of the House of Representatives, urged Listyo to immediately clean up the culture within the police including fabricating cases. The number of police officers suspected of obstruction of justice in the case of Brigadier Joshua's death is astonishing and cannot be tolerated, Taufik said. "They do not use discretion to refuse orders from superiors to participate in committing a crime. In fact, national police personnel have discretion if there is an order that is against the law," he said.
In the midst of the investigation into the Yosua murder case, a graphic circulated on social media and chat groups about the illegal business network that Sambo allegedly led. No party has yet claimed responsibility for the creation and circulation of the graphic. But the illustration, titled "The 303 Consortium of Emperor Sambo,” describes the relationship between high-ranking police officers, businessmen who are called 'crazy rich', and bookies in a number of areas in the country. The police are accused of protecting illegal businesses carried out by the consortium such as gambling, prostitution, smuggling of fake spare parts, subsidized diesel fuel, liquor, and illegal mining.
Sambo's lawyer, Arman Hanis, denied the accusations. Listyo, however, didn’t deny or confirm the contents, saying his agency is currently "undergoing an investigation". In line with the outbreak of the issue regarding the consortium, the police carried out operations to crack down on gambling in various regions. It also cooperates with the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) to trace accounts related to online gambling.
PPATK in its report said that it had frozen more than 400 accounts during 2022 allegedly related to online gambling activities with a nominal value of around Rp800 billion. Funds from the illicit business are indicated to have flowed to several countries in the Southeast Asian region such as Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and to tax haven countries. The assets of this business are estimated at hundreds of trillions per year.
Established on July 1, 1946, the police institution is one of the country's oldest agencies. Despite its success in fighting terrorism, it is regarded universally as corrupt, incompetent, and often accused of using violence against its citizens.
Before his downfall, according to Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Human Rights Mahfud MD, Sambo had great power as the head of the internal affairs division, supervising three one-star generals tasked with investigating, examining, and giving sanctions to police officers who violate the law.
Because of his great power, the investigation into the murder of Yosua was difficult at first. Mahfud, who is also Chairman of the National Police Commission, said the authority of the internal affairs division might be stripped away because it is considered very "powerful" so that it tends to protect bad police officers, cover up crimes and fabricate cases against police targets.
Investigation Continues into Murder
The police have named the 49-year-old Putri Chandrawati as a suspect in the case of Yosua's death, saying Sambo’s wife Putri was involved in a series of murder scenarios designed by her husband, from taking Yosua and other aides to the shooting location, reporting Yosua to the police on charges of sexual harassment and, with Sambo, promising money to Eliezer to take the blame for the shooting.
A special team has examined Putri, who is sticking to her claim that Yosua harassed her while they were at her home in Magelang City, Central Java, supporting Sambo's assertions to investigators that he was angry over Yosua's actions, which hurt the dignity of his family. Despite being a suspect, Putri hasn’t been arrested.
Listyo, the police chief, said Putri's statements determined the motive for the murder, either whether harassment by Yosua or infidelity. "There are no issues beyond that," said the chief. The murder reconstruction and announcement of the results of the second autopsy on Yosua's body will be carried out soon, he said, adding that "We are committed to transparency. We have nothing to hide. We process (cases) according to the facts and that is our promise."
Despite Putri’s protestations, rumors spread about an affair between Putri and Yosua as well as Sambo’s own sexual relationship with a beautiful policewoman, AKP Rita Yuliana, shown below. According to this scenario, Yosua reported Sambo's affair to Putri, which allegedly sparked Sambo's anger and led to his order to Eleizer to kill Yosua, supposedly in a gunfight.
However, suspicions arose with the suspicion of Yosua's family. who found many scars on the dead officer’s body prior to burial in defiance of police orders to keep the coffin closed. The family asked for an autopsy, which then sparked a stir on social media when it became clear that he had been tortured and beaten prior to his death.
The lies quickly started to multiply, with Ferdy Sambo named a suspect. Apart from Sambo and Putri, the police also named as suspects Eliezer and another aide, Bripka Ricky Rizal, as well as household assistant Ma'ruf Kuat. They were charged with premeditated murder which carries a death penalty, life imprisonment, or a maximum imprisonment of 20 years. Dozens of officers were transferred after it became clear they had trampled the murder scene to obliterate evidence.