Setting the Crooked Record Straight

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Some foreigners are involved in hypnotism scams in Indonesia, but the media should not be too hasty to blame Singaporeans.

Two weeks ago, this column reported on the case of a scammer who posed as a Singaporean philanthropist and tricked older Indonesian women into handing over their money and valuables in return for expired Singapore currency.

First, a correction: he wasn’t handing over old series S$500 notes from Singapore. He did show such notes to his victims, but he then gave them expired 500 Belarusian rouble banknotes, claiming they were Singapore dollars.

One of the frustrating things about the news in Indonesia is that reporters do not always follow up a story. For example, a provincial government official might be arrested on suspicion of corruption, or a local teacher might be detained for allegedly assaulting a student. What happens next? Sometimes the media just stops reporting, especially if the suspect is able to avoid being charged.

Fortunately, in the case of the phony philanthropist, Indonesian media on August 2 reported the fraudster and his gang had been busted. “Singaporean Detained Over Scamming Indonesians,” declared the headlines. Oops. Just because a scammer claims to be a particular nationality, it doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth.

The “Singaporean” scammer had posed as a generous executive of Shell oil company and called himself Salim Anan Brother. He claimed to have a suitcase full of Singapore dollars that he wanted to exchange for rupiah to donate to charities supporting orphans or needy widows. Assisted by two accomplices in an elaborate street hustle, he duped women into believing that his worthless Belarusian roubles were high-denomination Singapore dollars.

According to police, the “oil businessman” is Dodi Dana, a 64-year-old Indonesian citizen. His above-average height and pale complexion do not make him look typically Indonesian. He was arrested on August 1 at the arrivals terminal at Husein Sastranegara Airport in Bandung, West Java. His accomplices, Rudi Melalo (50) and Teddy Setiawan (27), were arrested the same day at their respective residences in Cibinong, West Java, and Cililitan, East Jakarta.

Dodi confessed to scamming at least 11 people. He said he bought bundles of one-hundred expired 500 Belarusian rouble banknotes from antique money dealers in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta. Each bundle cost him Rp300,000 (US$21). He could later dupe his victims into giving him Rp40 million (US$2,770) for 13 of the banknotes. For the record, 500 Belarusian roubles is worth about US$250, while the expired banknotes are practically worthless. The gang also used fake rupiah that were clearly stamped as children’s play money.

Jakarta Police said Dodi was caught with a Bank Permata cheque for Rp1.3 billion and a stack of property certificates. Other evidence seized from the gang included Singapore dollars, Belarusian roubles, rupiah play money, donation letters and jewellery.

Also seized were a silver Daihatsu Xenia and a phony Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) employee identification card. Teddy had posed as a BRI employee and driven victims to banks to withdraw their money in exchange for roubles. Rudi’s job was to pose as a passerby and convince victims to exchange their money or valuables. Police said he used his share of the proceeds to buy a house in his hometown of Tomohon, near the North Sulawesi capital of Manado.

Dodi, who lived in a rented house in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta, said many crime syndicates operate with a similar modus operandi, having one person pose as a philanthropist seeking to make donations to Islamic charities. In August 2017, Jakarta Police busted a gang whose boss posed as a Bruneian businessman seeking to donate money for the construction of mosques. In such cases, victims invariably claim they were hypnotised.

“Foreigners” Fleece Duck Restaurant

A more brazen exhibition of hypnotism involving apparent foreigners took place on July 18 at a recently opened duck restaurant on Jalan Fatmawati in South Jakarta.

At about 9.50pm, one man and two women of Middle Eastern appearance entered Bebek BKB restaurant. The man asked the cashier to change a Rp50,000 note so he could pay for a taxi, while the two women initially distracted the other staff.

The man quickly moved behind the counter and helped himself to the day’s takings, which amounted to Rp2.8 million, while the cashier simply watched. One of the women spoke to the cashier and the second woman later opened a menu at the counter. The trio exited swiftly, before the cashier, Maysaroh, realised she had been robbed.

The theft was recorded on a closed circuit TV camera and later uploaded to social media. Police said they were working with Immigration authorities in an effort to identify the crooks.

Pet Store Pilfering

Footage uploaded to YouTube in April shows a Caucasian man swindling a cashier in a pet shop in Muara Angke, North Jakarta. The man asks for change but then tricks the woman into handing over more money.

Iranians

In March, police arrested two Iranians after they crashed their Toyota Avanza into four motorbikes in three different locations in Depok, south of Jakarta. Among those injured during the hit-and-run spree was a four-year-old girl. The Iranians, who were apprehended after crashing into a road separator, were identified as Azimi Jafar (36) and Husen (15).

Police later said Azimi had previously used hypnotism to rob a minimart at Cimanggis in Depok. The cashier said Azimi had bought candy and a milk drink, which he paid for entirely in coins. He said the Iranian then asked to exchange a US$100 note for new series Rp100,000 notes. The cashier said he could not exchange any money, but the Iranian managed to hypnotise him and stole Rp1.4 million.

What happened to the two Iranians? Media reports simply said they offered to compensate their victims, and police handled the case in coordination with the Iranian Embassy. Out of sight, out of mind.

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.