Indonesian drug mules' journey ends in HK jail

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2008, 12:00am

Anti-Chinese riots following the downfall of late Indonesian strongman Suharto 10 years ago were the catalyst to a tale of woe that ended yesterday with the sentencing of a 58-year-old man to 14 years in prison for drug smuggling.

Tio Keng Boen was one of three Indonesian men sentenced by Deputy High Court Judge Stephen Geiser in the Court of First Instance to 14 years behind bars after pleading guilty to a single charge each of drug trafficking, over an attempt to smuggle almost 3kg of Ice from Shenzhen to Jakarta via Hong Kong.

Tio, along with Alwi Tjong, 55, and Cheng Keng Oei, 42, were stopped by customs officers as they boarded a Cathay Pacific flight to the Indonesian capital on May 13 last year.

The court heard that the trio, recruited individually by traffickers in Jakarta, flew into Hong Kong on May 10 and headed straight to Shenzhen, where they booked into a hotel. The three had gone for a meal and when they returned to their room there were six packets of drugs sitting on one of the beds.

They had lingered in Shenzhen until early on the morning of May 13, when they each strapped two packets of the drugs to their bodies and carried them across the border into Hong Kong and then to the airport.

All three men readily admitted their involvement.

Counsel for Tio, Robert Forrest, told the court that up until about May 1998, Tio had been a happily married businessman working in Jakarta's Chinatown. That all changed when rioters targeting ethnic Chinese Indonesians looted his shop, burned his truck and set fire to his house.

Tio and his family were forced into hiding. He had sold what remained of his house at a loss and was forced to live off his savings because anti-Chinese sentiment meant it was difficult for him to find work.

His wife left him, taking their three children with her, and then his elderly mother fell ill. Tio had borrowed heavily to finance surgery for his mother and had eventually fallen into the hands of loansharks.

It was in order to pay off some of his accumulated debt that he had agreed to act as a drug mule. He was promised 20,000 yuan if he carried the drugs back to Jakarta.

His two co-accused were promised a similar amount.

Because the trio were acting together, Mr Justice Geiser was forced to sentence them according to the aggregate quantity of drugs they were carrying, about 2.89kg.

He adopted a starting point of 21 years and reduced it by one third to 14 years. With good behaviour, the men will be released in less than 10 years.