Notorious conman and cult leader Taat Pribadi, who gave himself the noble-sounding title of Dimas Kanjeng, has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for orchestrating the murders of two of his followers.
The charlatan, whose name Kanjeng means ‘his Excellency’ in Javanese, is also being tried for fraud. He allegedly scammed billions of rupiah from his followers, who believed he could create money, gold and jewels out of thin air. Police said most of the gold he ‘created’ was fake, while his money came from gullible disciples who thought it could be multiplied one thousand-fold.
It will be interesting to see how many years he ends up spending behind bars, given that Indonesia’s justice system has a reputation for giving huge sentence cuts to wealthy murderers. For example, former president Suharto’s youngest son Tommy was in 2002 given a 15-year jail sentence for ordering the murder of a judge, possession of illegal weapons and fleeing justice, but walked free just four years later. Similarly, tycoon Adiguna Sutowo was in 2005 sentenced to seven years’ jail for murdering a waiter but was released within three years.
Kraksaan District Court in Probolinggo, East Java province, on August 1 found Taat guilty of masterminding the murders of Ismail Hidayah and Abdul Ghani. The two were killed because they had threatened to expose the money-multiplying scam, in which Taat performed simple conjuring tricks to create the illusion of materializing money. Ghani had been a key witness in a Rp.25 billion (US$1.8 million) fraud case reported by one of Taat’s victims.
Police said Taat paid nine of his security guards, including a military deserter, to murder Hidayah in February 2015 and Ghani in April 2016. Five of the killers were earlier this year given sentences ranging from ten to 20 years behind bars, while four others remain at large.
In sentencing Taat, judges Basuki Wiyono and Yudistira Alfian said he had participated in the premeditated murders, causing suffering to the victims’ families. They said he was spared a heavier sentence because it was his first offense.
Taat was punished under Articles 55 and 340 of the Criminal Code. Article 340 states: “Any person who with deliberate intent and premeditation takes the life of another person shall be punished by the death sentence, life imprisonment or a maximum 20 years in jail.” Article 55 states that those who persuade or incite others to commit a criminal act shall be punishable as if they performed the act themselves.
The judges said Taat had not confessed to the killings, even though it had been proven he paid the killers. With his long oily hair slicked back, the portly conman appeared nonchalant throughout his trial. Before the verdict was announced, he expressed hope he would be acquitted. His sentencing was tightly guarded by police. Only a few reporters were allowed inside the court and those left outside were unable to hear proceedings, as there were no loudspeakers to broadcast the reading of the verdict. At the same time, about 200 police tightly guarded the cult’s compound, where some diehard followers remain.
Anger & Appeals
There were dramatic scenes outside the courthouse when Ismail’s widow, Bibi Resemjen, threatened to kill Taat. She said he deserved life imprisonment or death.
“If the penalty for murder is only an 18-year prison sentence, then I’d be better off killing Taat. I want to avenge my husband’s murder on him. I’m ready to go to jail if his punishment is not life imprisonment,” she was quoted as saying by SURYA.co.id.
Her comment sparked angry jeers from Taat’s supporters. She tried to confront one of them for taunting her, but her relatives pulled her away.
Bibi, who has three children, was not impressed when a reporter asked if she was satisfied with the verdict. “How can I feel relaxed? Would you be relaxed if your wife or your children were murdered?” she shouted.
“What kind of a verdict is this?” she asked. “Don’t the judges have children and wives or grandchildren? He was the brains behind the premeditated murders of two people… Where are everyone’s brains? Haven’t they got a heart?”
She said the verdict reflects the poor state of justice in Indonesia, as the law sides with the rich. “How much did Taat pay this court?” she was quoted as saying by Tempo magazine’s online portal. Bibi tried to protest to the judges, but they left the court swiftly, so she broke down and wept.
Chief prosecutor Mohamad Usman, who had demanded life imprisonment for Taat, said he would appeal the ‘lenient’ verdict.
Taat’s lawyer Muhammad Soleh also vowed to appeal, saying the 18-year sentence was more than he expected. He claimed the guilty verdict was “full of doubts” and insinuated his client was convicted only because the judges feared they might be accused of accepting bribes if they had acquitted him. “The defendant had nothing to do with the murders … If he were acquitted, [the judges] would be afraid of public opinion, later they would be accused of accepting something,” he was quoted as saying by BBC Indonesia.
The lawyer said Taat should be freed because four witnesses had testified he was not linked to the murders.
In July, Soleh showed a ridiculous video of Taat producing money from behind his back. It was supposed to prove the guru’s magical powers, as the lawyer at first lifted up part of his client’s batik shirt to show there was no concealed money, only a substantial paunch, but the little pile of banknotes could easily have been hidden in his trousers or sleeves.
While many followers of Taat lost their enthusiasm after he was accused of fraud and murder, some remain convinced he is a great sage with magical powers. One of those loyal followers, Asmiati, 51-years-old, said Taat is God’s messenger, sent to Earth to spread goodness and money. “I still believe that Taat is a powerful and wise person, I believe he has the ability to make money,” she said after the verdict.
She showed reporters a pile of foreign money she claimed Taat had materialized for her. The notes were from Venezuela, Cambodia, North Korea, Argentina, Turkey, Vietnam and Iran – which might impress people who don’t know about exchange rates. Asmiati said Taat had also given her expensive diamonds and jewellery, usually after a monthly Islamic prayer ceremony.
It now only remains to be seen how many years Taat will receive for alleged fraud and how long he will actually spend behind bars. Money doesn’t always talk in Indonesia; sometimes it shouts.
Featured Image by Adam Cohn