One of the most popular ways to get rich in Indonesia is through politics. There are endless possibilities for self-enrichment through abuse of power. When anti-corruption investigators come knocking, you simply feign illness. Then find a sympathetic judge to revoke your suspect status. Should you come under further investigation, just claim immunity. Easy.
If you haven’t chosen a career in politics and you’re averse to hard work, there are plenty of scammers ready to promise you easy money. Scamming itself is one method of getting rich quick, but if you’re not operating in the corridors of power, your ultimate reward will likely be jail time.
A few expatriates in Indonesia have become scammers because they find themselves jobless and without prospects. That was the case of a Cameroonian footballer, Ndetou Blaise Filochar, who was arrested in Jakarta last month for running a dollar multiplying scam.
For foreign football players with limited financial resources, Indonesia is not the best country in which to retire, unless you can find a rich spouse or a lucrative coaching position. Blaise had arrived in Indonesia in 2004 when he was 25 years old. Police say he came as an asylum seeker and was registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency.
He was soon playing as a midfielder for East Kalimantan’s Persiba Balikpapan Football Club. It was a dream start with the club known as the Honey Bears, as his performances helped Persiba win promotion to Indonesia’s Premier Division, the top national league at the time.
In 2005, Blaise was lured to Mitra Kukar Football Club, also based in East Kalimantan. The club’s new owner hired a slew of talented players with the aim of gaining promotion to the Premier Division – a goal achieved by the end of the 2007 season. It was reported that Blaise had problems with some of the club’s supporters, resulting in him sometimes skipping training sessions.
By 2010, he no longer had a contract. In 2012, he tried out for Central Java-based club PPSM Sakti Magelang but was not hired. For the 2013 season, he trialled unsuccessfully for Persip Pekalongan City. Persip coach Agus Riyanto said although Blaise had a strong fighting spirit, his skills were average.
Blaise then turned to crime, learning the art of US dollar scams from a fellow Cameroonian, Oliver Siewe Tchachoua. Posing as a tycoon seeking to invest money in Indonesia, Oliver befriended people in nightclubs and hotels. Once he had gained someone’s trust, he would demonstrate a method of increasing money. He was assisted in this by Blaise and the latter’s girlfriend, Pragita Noviana.
Their swindle was a variation of the black dollar scam, but their bogus dollars were initially white. Here’s how it works. The scammer displays two pieces of white paper, claiming they are negatives of unfinished US banknotes. A chemical liquid or powder is applied to the papers, causing them to darken. Next, a genuine $100 note is placed between the two strips of paper. The small bundle is wrapped in foil and compressed for effect. It is later unwrapped and washed with water or chemicals, revealing the two “negatives” have transformed into real money.
The original white papers are actually worthless. The scammer uses sleight of hand to replace them with real banknotes coated in an easily soluble solution, so genuine money appears to have been created.
Once a target has been convinced the method is real, the scammer invites them to provide some US dollars to create more money. If the person hands over any cash, it is switched for counterfeit dollars.
The victim is left with a stack of useless black-coated paper, sealed with tape. The victim is instructed to wait several hours for the duplication process to work, or they may be told to wait for the scammer to bring more washing solution.
Oliver was arrested in Jakarta in May 2013 for pulling this scam. He was jailed for one year and six months and then deported. Blaise evaded arrest and tried his hand at various jobs but could not find permanent employment. Growing desperate, he decided to resurrect the scam in September 2017.
One of his victims was Arif Maulana. At a hotel room, Blaise demonstrated the money multiplying process. Arif was impressed and handed over seven $100 notes. Blaise deftly replaced the greenbacks with counterfeit notes and stacked them among 100 sheets of white paper, smeared with a black liquid. He then wrapped the bundle in a plastic bag and taped it up.
Arif was told to wait eight hours for the “money” to be produced, after which it would have to be cleaned. Blaise promised to return to the hotel with a cleaning chemical but never did. Realizing he had been conned, Arif reported the matter to police.
Blaise was arrested on October 8 at Fave Hotel in Kemang, South Jakarta. Police said he admitted to conning at least two people out of a total of US$1,000. He now faces a maximum prison term of four years if convicted of fraud.
While Blaise ended up with only $1,000 for his efforts, a scammer in Cilacap, Central Java, managed to earn Rp.5 billion (US$370,000) from a money multiplying scam that involved slaughtering goats.
Sugiyono, 50, decided to become a dukun (shaman) after losing his money in a scam. He promised people he had Islamic and supernatural powers that could transform Rp.100 million ($7,385) into Rp.18 billion ($1.33 million).
He started swindling in 2007 but stopped after last year’s high-profile arrest of notorious scammer Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi, who was accused of conning billions of rupiah out of people who believed their cash could be doubled.
Sugiyono resumed his scam this year, inviting targets to whichever house he was renting at the time. First, he showed them a large white box in a ‘meditation room’. Next, the dukun ritually slaughtered a goat – an act reputed to bring spiritual powers and good fortune. The target was then instructed to recite some Islamic texts. The following day, they would re-enter the same room, lit by a red light. The white box would be overflowing with bundles of money, banded with authentic bank seals, proving the sacrifice had worked its magic.
The dukun encouraged people to put more money into the box to be multiplied. He also requested cash and transfers to bring blessings. One victim, identified only by his initials as YP, ended up handing over a total of Rp.2.8 billion ($207,000). After three months and no returns, he went to the police.Sugiyono was arrested at a rented house on October 16. The bundles of cash in his meditation room were just playing money, purchased from a toy store. Police also seized amulets, air guns, an enormous fake diamond and some jenglot – tiny, mummified fake humanoids – all part of the rituals.
The dukun said he searched for victims by using an intermediary, who spread the word of his magical powers. Police identified eight victims, mostly entrepreneurs, who lost a total of Rp.5 billion.
With Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency under renewed threats, we can expect more police busts of minor and mid-level scammers, while the biggest fish swim free.