Indonesia’s Widodo urges ‘transparent’ probe as police aide’s murder rocks faith in force
- General Ferdy Sambo has been named as a suspect in the killing of his aide and trying to cover it up with a fake shoot-out involving another officer
- President Widodo, under pressure over the country’s cost of living crisis, ordered police chief to hurry the investigation but ‘not hide anything from the public’
A high-ranking Indonesian police officer has been charged with murdering his aide and covering up the crime in a month-long case that has attracted significant attention from the public and the deep concern of President Joko Widodo.
Police chief, General Listyo Sigit Prabowo, on Tuesday said the now-former Internal Affairs Chief Inspector General Ferdy Sambo had been named as a suspect in the murder of Brigadier Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat. Police initially declared his death to be the result of a shoot-out with Richard Eliezer, another aide, at Ferdy’s house in south Jakarta.
On Tuesday, the police disregarded that claim, saying that Ferdy – the youngest two-star general in the force’s history – could have masterminded the killing of Yosua and its cover-up attempts.
Following a further investigation of materials including CCTV footage and phone records, it was concluded that “there was no shoot-out during the day of the incident, as per our initial report”, Listyo said.
“The shooting of Yosua was carried out by Eliezer on the orders of Ferdy Sambo. The special investigative team this morning has named Ferdy Sambo as a suspect,” he added.
In addition to Eliezer and Ferdy, the police named two other officers as suspects – Brigadier Ricky Rizal, an aide de camp and driver to Ferdy’s wife, and another man identified only as KM. Police said both men helped Eliezer kill the victim.
All suspects have been detained and charged with premeditated murder, which carries a maximum penalty of capital punishment or life in prison.
The special investigation team also interrogated 31 police personnel from different divisions and units who allegedly violated the police ethical conduct by “removing the evidence, obscuring and fabricating” the case, Listyo said.
Eleven police personnel were already detained for questioning, including “one two-star general, two one-star generals, two senior police commissioners” and six other high-ranked officers. “The number may still increase,” Listyo said.
The police chief said the public announcement was made to heed President Widodo’s – or Jokowi, as he is popularly known – instruction of a “quick, transparent, and accountable” investigation.
Widodo, under pressure over the country’s cost of living crisis, had on Tuesday told the police chief to “reveal the truth as it is” and to “not hide anything from the public”.
“Do not let the public trust in the police dwindle, that is the most important thing. We still have to protect the image of the police,” the president said in a video statement released to the public.
Bambang Rukminto, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Institute for Security and Strategic Studies who specialises in the police sector, said the month-long case had gripped the attention of the public and local news outlets due to Ferdy’s “vital post within the Indonesian police”.
“He was the chief of internal affairs, he was tasked to enforce the rules and norms within the police. But as it turns out, he was the brains behind this brutal crime that could mar the police’s image,” said Bambang.
Yosua was killed in Ferdy’s house on July 8, but the case was only made known to the public three days after.
At the beginning of the investigation, the police alleged Yosua – who worked for the criminal investigation unit before becoming Ferdy’s personal assistant – sexually harassed Ferdy’s wife by entering her room and “put the gun on her head”.
It was believed the incident led to a shoot-out between Yosua and Eliezer, during which the former fired seven times at the latter, but missed every shot. It was said Eliezer then fired back at Yosua five times, killing him on the spot.
During the alleged incident, Ferdy was elsewhere undergoing a coronavirus test. The 49-year-old general got home after his wife told him about the incident. He then reported the incident to the South Jakarta police.
The flaws in this case were first highlighted by the victim’s relatives, who were initially barred from seeing Yosua’s body after the autopsy. When they were allowed, they said they spotted at least seven gunshot wounds and bruises caused by “sharp weapons”.
Also suspicious was the sudden disappearance of CCTV cameras from Ferdy’s house, as well as Yosua’s mobile phone.
“All these oddities essentially violate the police’s own standard operating procedures, from the crime scene processing, the autopsy result delivery to the victim’s family, to the creation of police’s statement to the public,” Bambang said.
“Another irregularity is the fact that a low-level police officer could possess a gun that is typically owned by a high-ranking officer,” he added.
Following Tuesday’s announcement by Listyo that the claims were fabricated, Mahfud Md, coordinating minister for politics, legal and security affairs, told reporters that the crime’s motive may not be announced to the public as it “can only be heard by adults”.
Pressure on police
This was not the first time Widodo had publicly reprimanded his police chief and ordered him to speed up an investigation.
He had previously told Listyo to address crimes, such as issues with thugs extorting illegal fees at Jakarta’s main port of Tanjung Priok.
However, the murder of one officer by another and its attempted cover-up were serious crimes that could exacerbate the police force’s already poor image in the eyes of the global community as well as Indonesians, Bambang said.
“The police chief was likely seen as slow and lacking initiative to solve this case, so the president felt that he needed to address the case in public so his police chief could act faster and firmer,” he said.
If the case was not solved efficiently, Indonesia’s reputation could take a hit, which would damage foreign investment and trade and affect Widodo’s infrastructure drive, Bambang suggested.
“Investors may see Indonesia’s law enforcement as weak and that could hurt the investment climate here.” He said it could create uncertainty about crimes being solved legally or “under the table”.