Inmates at a jail in Bandung were running a scam for two years in which they seduced women online and then blackmailed them. How can crime be so rampant in correctional institutions?
Let’s start by laying down the law. The Justice and Human Rights Ministry is responsible for Indonesia’s jails. The ministry issued a Code of Conduct for Correctional Institutions and State Prisons in 2013. It makes interesting reading. Particularly Chapter 2 on Obligations and Prohibitions. Article 4 (a) states that inmates or detainees are prohibited from having financial relationships with other prisoners or correctional officers. Article 4 (j) states that prisoners cannot own, carry or use electronic goods, including laptops and mobile phones.
So why do so many inmates have mobile phones? Corruption. Why doesn’t the Justice and Human Rights Ministry fix the problem? A few years ago, one man did try to single-handedly clean up the system. He was Denny Indrayana, an anti-corruption activist and long-time critic of the justice mafia. In October 2011, when he was 39 years old, he was appointed deputy justice minister. He staged a series of surprise raids at several jails to expose narcotics offenses involving inmates supported by guards. His actions did not win him many friends.
Usually, there is advance notice before a prison raid, so contraband items can be concealed or temporarily confiscated, but Denny did not operate that way. I used to be a regular visitor to a jail outside Jakarta. I remember inmates telling me that when Denny tried to conduct a late-night raid, the guards quickly ordered the prison’s drug lab be dismantled. When drugs were discovered, guards simply pinned the blame on two Iranian inmates.
In April 2012, Denny took some drugs squad officers to a jail in Riau for an early morning raid. Guards refused to allow them inside. After a scuffle, his team was allowed to enter and arrested some prisoners for drugs and money laundering.
Denny, who also tackled corruption in immigration offices, ended up losing his position in 2014. The following year, he was declared a corruption suspect by the National Police on the grounds that Rp605 million went unaccounted for in the development of an online system for passport applications and payments – a project designed to curb corruption. The Attorney General’s Office repeatedly rejected the police’s case file.
Meanwhile, Denny went to Australia as a visiting professor at Melbourne University’s school of law. A sneering government official last year told me, “You know what Denny is doing now? He’s a taxi driver in Melbourne. That’s what happens to people like him.” Denny had indeed taken to doing some driving to augment his income in Melbourne, saying the most important thing is to be happy, law-abiding and not corrupt.
Until the government recruits more people like Denny, fundamental problems within correctional institutions will remain.
In the West Java capital of Bandung, inmates at Jelekong prison were last month caught running a lucrative scam in which they contacted women online, convinced them to share nude photos or videos, and then blackmailed them.
Police initially arrested just three people, but one officer speculated up to 80 percent of the prison’s 1,290 inmates might have been involved in the operation, which had been taking place since 2016. Another officer estimated 100 prisoners were involved.
One of the inmates, identified only by his initials as GL, said inmates were forced to participate. He said that when he was transferred to the jail a few months ago, the head of his cell, Ijam, threatened to beat him if he did not join the scam.
GL, who is serving more than ten years for child abduction, said Ijam provided him with two smartphones. First, GL was assigned to make social media accounts with the identities of real men, who would be appealing to wealthy women. To do this, he browsed at least 20 online forums for professionals with remote occupations ranging from mining to shipping. He then created fake WhatsApp and Facebook accounts, posing as a beautiful woman named Raina, using photos swiped from a real account.
“Raina” would flirt with the men online and ask for their photos and videos. These files would later be used as bait for luring women. To be truly convincing, GL also sought the men’s identity cards. “Raina” shared her identity card and family card, and urged the men to reciprocate to prove they were not using fake names.
Armed with the names, occupations, photos, videos and IDs of handsome men, GL could create dozens of credible guerrilla accounts. His next task was to search for single or married women in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia via various social media and dating apps. His cell boss taught him “a lethal seduction that can make women melt” so they would consent to undress or even masturbate in video calls. Such calls were saved by using recording software or simply by using the second phone’s camera recording mode.
The scammer would then claim he had applied for leave to take a flight to visit the woman to consummate their relationship or marry her. Then another prisoner, posing as the eligible man’s boss, would contact the woman and urge her to transfer funds for airfares, otherwise the nude photos or videos would be leaked to the internet.
Police said the prisoners in GL’s cell had scammed at least 89 women. There are four blocks in Jelekong prison, each with 16 cells. GL said eight to ten inmates in most cells performed the same scam. Some posed as military and police officers or officials of state-owned enterprises to attract women. Police said there could be hundreds of victims.
GL claimed each inmate was extorting an average of Rp30 million per week (US$2,130), and one made a record Rp250 million in a week. Despite his high earnings, GL was paid only Rp800,000 (US$57) per week. “I just accepted whatever I was given. What’s important is the cell can be peaceful, not disturbed and no beatings,” he said.
Victims transferred their money to bank accounts run by senior inmates’ friends or relatives on the outside. GL said his cell boss used an account in the name of a deceased person. Asked how such an account could be opened, he replied, “If there’s money, what cannot be done? Even playing with women can be done in there [jail].”
A prisoner identified only as T alleged that prison officers knew about the extortion and received weekly payments in return for allowing prisoners to own phones. Another prisoner, BY, claimed the head of prison security received Rp13 million per week, while other staff each received from Rp3 million to Rp5 million.
Bandung Police chief Hendro Pandowo formed an investigation team with officials from the Justice and Human Rights Ministry to track the flow of funds from the scam. He promised the nude videos would not be shared in cyberspace and would be viewed only for the purpose of investigation. But he warned that prisoners might have already shared some of the videos.
He said if anyone is being blackmailed with nude videos, they should report directly to police and not transfer any money. He also called for fundamental changes to the prison system and its supervision, to prevent inmates from embarking on further crimes behind bars.
Indro Purwoko of the local Justice and Human Rights Office said allegations that prison officers were receiving payments had been cross-checked, but there were no acknowledgements of involvement. He said staff at the jail had confiscated 205 phones and were identifying the prisoners involved in the scam. Three officials at the prison were demoted, but not fired. Tougher measures are needed to improve the professionalism of correctional officers.