The resort island used to be a paradise for foreigners fleeing legal problems, but the risk of deportation is rising.
In days of yore, what was a person to do when wanted by police in the United States, Australia or Europe? Flee abroad, of course. If you couldn’t get to South America, then Southeast Asia was a popular destination, especially Bali, where you could blend in with tourists and pay for long-stay visas. These days, however, foreign fugitives arriving in Bali are likely to face arrest and deportation, especially those without deep pockets.
Bali has been attractive to refugees since at least the 15th century. Back then, the fall of the Java-based Majapahit kingdom to emerging Muslim forces prompted many Hindus to move to the smaller island.
Over the past 50 years, Bali has been a magnet for foreigners, not least because of its warm climate, low prices and friendly locals. Not of all its visitors are mere tourists. According to Australian author Kathryn Bonella’s 2012 book Snowing in Bali, endemic corruption means that many foreign drug dealers are living there as fugitives, some of them on false passports.
Bali’s top police detective, Sugeng Sudarso, has acknowledged the resort island is a favourite destination for criminals wanted by Interpol. He says local police and Immigration have recently developed new measures, integrated with Interpol, to identify and monitor suspects coming from abroad.
According to local media reports, many of the foreign fugitives in Bali are from the Czech Republic, China, Russia, India, France, Japan and Australia.
In 2018, Bali Police arrested at least ten foreigners under Interpol red notices (the equivalent of an international arrest warrant) for crimes including fraud, kidnapping, hacking and sexual assault. In 2017, 12 foreigners on Interpol’s red notice list were nabbed in Bali. Most were deported in the custody of law enforcers from their own country, rather than undergoing extradition, which is a time-consuming process requiring the president’s signature.
Following are just a few of the people who moved to Bali while facing legal problems. Not all are felons.
Hip-hop music producer
The American music producer in 1984 founded hip-hop label Def Jam. In 2017, he faced multiple accusations of sexual assault and rape of women. In 2018, he resigned from his companies, began selling his properties and moved to Bali. He admitted “inappropriate conduct” in some instances, but denied allegations of non-consensual sex. He could face trial this year, after a Los Angeles judge rejected his plea to have charges dismissed. Simmons says he has been in Bali to focus on yoga and meditation.
British model and steroid dealer
Murrell (30) was part of a gang that imported anabolic steroids from China and sold them online in the UK. Prosecutors alleged he made more than £220,000 from the supply of steroids, while the gang made a profit of £1.2 million in two years. Murrell had admitted to supplying a controlled drug and possession. When facing sentencing, he fled to Bali. A Welsh court in October 2018 sentenced him in absence to 37 months in jail. Murrell has since posted photos on social media of himself enjoying life in Bali.
Indian mafia boss
This Indian crime lord, whose real name is Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, is suspected of involvement in up to 17 murders. Born in 1959, he started out as a scalper of cinema tickets and rose through the ranks of the Mumbai underworld. He was placed on Interpol’s wanted list in 1995. He spent much of the next 20 years living abroad, including seven years in Australia. In October 2015, he arrived in Bali for a 15-day holiday, only to be arrested at the airport, after a tip-off from Australian police. He was deported to India in November 2015. In May 2018, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for masterminding the 2011 murder of a Mumbai journalist.
VonTrey Jamal Clark
Clark in 2012 joined the police force in Austin, Texas. His pregnant girlfriend, Samantha Dean, was murdered in February 2015. Clark had allegedly threatened to kill her after she refused to have an abortion. Clark flew to Jakarta, then Bali, where he stayed in a hotel in Kuta before renting a villa in Canggu. He was arrested there in July 2015 and handed to 13 FBI agents, who escorted him to Texas. He is due to go on trial in February 2019 and faces the death penalty.
Antonino Messicati Vitale
Sicilian mafia boss
Vitale (born April 18, 1972) was chief of the Villabate mafia clan, just outside Palermo, the capital of Sicily. He inherited the job from his father, who was shot dead in 1988. In 2012, Vitale was wanted in Italy on charges of murder, extortion, human trafficking and arms trading. He escaped a police raid and fled to Bali. He spent six months in Legian, Kuta. Living in luxury, he celebrated his 40th birthday with an orchestra playing the theme of The Godfather movie. Italian investigators tracked him down by bugging telephone calls made by friends and family members, and then tailed some relatives who flew to Bali to visit him. He was arrested in a joint Indonesian-Italian operation in December 2012 and extradited to Italy. In May 2017, he was sentenced to 12 years in jail for mafia association.
Pearlman (1954–2016) was an American record producer who managed the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. He was also a serial fraudster, ending up with debts of over US$300 million. In January 2007, facing subpoenas from the US government and various plaintiffs, he took his latest boyband, US5, to Europe and then disappeared, before ending up in Bali. He was arrested in the Nusa Dua resort area in July 2007, handed over to US agents and flown to Florida. In May 2008, he was sentenced to 25 years in jail for conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding. He died in custody in 2016 at age 62 after suffering a stroke and a heart attack.
Jules Bernard Fleder
US real estate scammer
Fleder, a California businessman, from 2001 to 2004 ran a real estate development scam in which he and two associates swindled more than US$27.5 million from investors. When authorities started investigating, Fleder scarpered to Bali. He was arrested at a Denpasar hotel in February 2005 in a joint operation by Indonesia’s National Police, the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A day later, he was taken to the US territory of Guam. In November 2006, a Texas court sentenced him to ten years in jail and ordered him to repay his investors.
Australian sex offender
Thompson (alias Paul Spraggs and Paul Jarvis) was a convicted child sex offender. He escaped from a Western Australian prison farm in November 1991. He had served nine months of a two-and-a-half-year sentence for aggravated indecent assault of minors and indecent exposure. He spent at least six years in Bali, where he worked as a junior cricket development officer. He was arrested in February 2004 and deported in the custody of Australian police. Released from an Australian jail in July 2005 after serving out his sentence, he returned to Bali later that year, only to be ordered to leave. In 2006, he was arrested in Thailand and repatriated. In recent years, Australia has banned known paedophiles from flying to Bali and Thailand.