New Year, Old Cons

De­spite re­peated calls for a na­tional ‘men­tal revo­lu­tion’, In­done­sia re­mains ripe for scams per­pe­trated by self-styled holy men claim­ing mag­i­cal pow­ers.

Indonesia Expat - - NEWS - By Ken­neth Yeung

Po­lice in Cen­tral Java ush­ered in the New Year by ar­rest­ing a dukun (shaman) who swin­dled a man of Rp.300 mil­lion ( US$22,430) by claim­ing he had the power to mag­i­cally trans­form the cash into Rp. 5 bil­lion ( US$374,000).

Fol­low­ing his ar­rest on Jan­uary 1, Kaswanto (60) con­fessed he was un­able to har­ness su­per­nat­u­ral en­ergy to in­crease money. But the dukun, who hails from Har­josari, south of the provin­cial cap­i­tal Se­marang, boasted of his past ser­vice as a spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor to top lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the re­gent of Se­marang, Mund­jirin.

He claimed that a re­tired army of­fi­cer, iden­ti­fied only as Agus, had re­cruited him as a swindler back in May of 2016. Their vic­tim was a 60-year-old restau­rant owner named Kas­muin from Pan­da­narum vil­lage in De­mak district. He was first ap­proached by Agus, who told him the dukun could fan­tas­ti­cally mul­ti­ply his wealth through a series of rit­u­als.

Kas­muin, who needed to re­pay large debts, took the bait and on May 15 with­drew Rp.300 mil­lion from his bank ac­count. Kaswanto and Agus then claimed they needed to visit the West Java port city of Cire­bon to buy some mag­i­cal oil to en­sure the money would grow into Rp. 5 bil­lion.

On May 18, Kas­muin and his wife were sum­moned to Kaswanto’s house. They had to wait in the liv­ing room while the dukun and Agus took the money into an­other room. Next, Kaswanto per­formed for his guests a series of non­sense in­can­ta­tions in­volv­ing var­i­ous props, in­clud­ing flow­ers, in­cense, saf­fron oil, be­tel nut and a ‘magic’ stone.

The flo­ral flim­flam is known lo­cally as bunga tu­juh

rupa – a set of flow­ers used in tra­di­tional re­li­gious and su­per­nat­u­ral cer­e­monies. Peo­ple who sub­scribe to such ho­cus-pocus be­lieve that white rose petals are par­tic­u­larly po­tent for bring­ing pros­per­ity.

Saf­fron oil is be­lieved to be a pow­er­ful love po­tion in some Mid­dle East­ern cul­tures, but in Java, it is used to con­se­crate mys­ti­cal items, such as or­na­men­tal tal­is­mans. The oil’s sooth­ing aroma is re­puted to please benev­o­lent spir­its, such as ge­nies, en­cour­ag­ing them to be­stow their bless­ings. Again, this is to­tal non­sense that thrives when blind su­per­sti­tion pre­cludes sci­en­tific rea­son­ing.

Kaswanto claimed his magic stone had ma­te­ri­al­ized out of thin air while he was med­i­tat­ing by Lake Rawa Pen­ing – a place con­nected with the myth of Baru Klint­ing. Leg­end has it that a small boy named Baru Klint­ing was mocked by vil­lagers be­cause of his ugly face, so he chal­lenged them to pull a stick out of the ground. No one could per­form the task, so the boy re­moved the stick, re­sult­ing in a flood that cre­ated the lake and sub­merged the en­tire vil­lage. So any magic stone from this place must be pow­er­ful, if you ac­cept such stuff as fact.

Af­ter the rit­u­als, the scam­mers gave Kas­muin a large card­board box sealed with tape, claim­ing it con­tained his money that would be mul­ti­plied. The catch? He was in­structed to wait seven days for the magic to work. A week later, Kas­muin’s wife opened the box. It was full of Rp.1,000 and Rp.2,000 notes, but af­ter count­ing them, she found they amounted to only Rp. 59 mil­lion.

Dis­mayed, the cou­ple tried in vain to find the per­pe­tra­tors, but the dukun never seemed to be at home. On Oc­to­ber 16, Kas­muin re­ported the mat­ter to po­lice. Ten weeks later, Kaswanto was nabbed at a med­i­cal clinic in the Gu­nung­pati sub­dis­trict, where his third wife was be­ing treated. Agus, who lived in a res­i­den­tial area for army per­son­nel, re­mains at large.

Kaswanto said Agus had taken Rp.100 mil­lion of the money, while he had re­ceived the rest. The dukun said he spent his share on a mo­tor­cy­cle, fur­ni­ture and home im­prove­ments. He promised to sell his house in or­der to re­pay the re­main­ing Rp.241 mil­lion to Kas­muin.

Kaswanto worked as a handy­man and labourer (when he wasn’t act­ing as a dukun). But he said prom­i­nent lo­cal of­fi­cials and cit­i­zens had of­ten called on him to per­form prayers and rit­u­als for cel­e­bra­tions and for ‘spe­cific in­ten­tions’.

Se­marang Po­lice Chief Abiyoso Seno Aji said Kaswanto now faces fraud charges, pun­ish­able by a max­i­mum of four years be­hind bars. He urged peo­ple not to be eas­ily duped by char­la­tans claim­ing the abil­ity to dou­ble money.

Such scams are far too com­mon in In­done­sia. One of the big­gest ‘money-dou­bling’ scam­mers, Di­mas Kan­jeng Taat Pri­abdi, was ar­rested last Septem­ber af­ter ac­cu­mu­lat­ing an es­ti­mated Rp.1 tril­lion and al­legedly or­der­ing the mur­der of two of his as­so­ci­ates. Seven of his hench­men are now on trial over the murders and have tes­ti­fied that he or­dered the killings, but he has de­nied any in­volve­ment.

Sle­man Swin­dle

On Jan­uary 4, po­lice in Sle­man, Jog­jakarta, an­nounced they had ar­rested a con­man who claimed to have been in­spired by Di­mas Kan­jeng’s suc­cess­ful ex­ploita­tion of su­per­sti­tious and greedy peo­ple.

Joko alias Se­ti­awan (46), an un­em­ployed res­i­dent of the Ber­bah sub­dis­trict in Sle­man, used a ruby-like agate stone as his prop, claim­ing it gave him the power to more than dou­ble money. But he spurned ru­piah and in­stead asked his vic­tim to pro­vide him with US dol­lars as they are ‘sim­pler to han­dle’.

His first vic­tim, iden­ti­fied only as S. from Tri­harjo vil­lage, pre­pared US$16,000 af­ter Joko promised it could be trans­formed into Rp.8 bil­lion. He asked S. to pre­pare two goose eggs, some cer­e­mo­nial flow­ers and a large en­ve­lope for the money. Then Joko came to the vic­tim’s house and per­formed the rit­ual, plac­ing the eggs, flow­ers and money into some boxes. Dur­ing his in­can­ta­tions, he sur­rep­ti­tiously switched the cash for 170 pieces of pa­per.

Joko then de­clared he had to throw the eggs and flow­ers into a river as part of the magic. He promised to re­turn im­me­di­ately. S. waited for two anx­ious hours. He opened the box con­tain­ing the ‘money’ en­ve­lope only to dis­cover it was now full of worth­less pa­per.

The vic­tim re­ported the case to po­lice. A few days later, Joko was ar­rested in Ban­tul on De­cem­ber 21. He had gone on a spend­ing spree and rented a house and still had US$11,000 left.

The ar­rests of Di­mas Kan­jeng, Kaswanto, Joko and other con­men won’t put a stop to such scams un­til peo­ple are taught that magic is noth­ing but trick­ery. A chal­leng­ing res­o­lu­tion for a coun­try steeped in su­per­sti­tion.

“Fol­low­ing his ar­rest on Jan­uary 1, Kaswanto (60) con­fessed he was un­able to har­ness su­per­nat­u­ral en­ergy to in­crease money. But the dukun, who hails from Har­josari, south of the provin­cial cap­i­tal Se­marang, boasted of his past ser­vice as a spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor to top lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the re­gent of Se­marang, Mund­jirin.”

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