Indonesian police admit officers may be bribed by people smugglers
Agence France Presse
October 25, 2001 Thursday 3:06 AM Eastern Time
A senior Indonesian police commander admitted Thursday that it was possible rogue police officers took bribes from people smugglers, as investigations continued into the drowning of 350 asylum-seekers.
'It is possible that some police are bribed by people smugglers. The syndicates have a lot of money,' chief of detectives at national police headquarters, Inspector General Engkesman Hillep, told AFP. 'But not the police as an institution, just rogue police officers,' he said, in response to allegations that police forced Australia bound asylum-seekers onto a flimsy boat which sank l ast Friday.
'It is suspected that some police take money.'
Police said members of other authorities may also be taking bribes.
'Not just the police, other forces too, like the navy, or immigration officials,' the head of the Special Crimes Unit, Brigadier General Suahrto (eds: one name), told AFP.
Some 350 people, mainly Iraqis, drowned when their overloaded boat sank last Friday in the Java Sea en route to Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Only 44 people were saved.
Survivors told Australian media Wednesday that more than a dozen armed Indonesian police herded some asylum-seekers on to the boat after they were unwilling to board the rotting vessel in a port in the Sumatra province of Lampung.
They said police pointed guns at them when they objected to the state of the vessel and tried to get off.
Hillep said an eight-man team of detectives was in Lampung to investigate the claims of police involvement.
'Our team yesterday (Wednesday) interviewed the survivors who said police were involved and they have gone to Lampung today to follow up the claims,' he said.
'We have to prove their stories, we need to find more witnesses. It's not enough to have just a few people's claims.'
Hillep said he had received previous reports of police involvement in people smuggling, 'but just involving individual officers here and there. We've never had a report on this scale (of police involvement).'
He said police would be able to conclude in 'one or two more days' whether the claims were true.
'We want to know who these officers were, what cars they were using, what equipment.'
Hillep said police operations to monitor and catch people smugglers since 1996 had only netted low-ranking members of their syndicates, never the chiefs.
'We arrested one in Kupang (West Timor) in 1997, he told us that immigration officials were assisting the syndicates,' Hillep said.
'The syndicates have access to hotels, to transport operations, maybe to the navy, maybe to police -- but bad police, rotten police.'
The commander said low police wages could not be blamed for bribery.
'It's because of the mentality, the morality of those police. We here also are paid very little, but we're trying to stop the people smugglers,' Hillep said.
Police were trying to track down five people smugglers believed to be the organisers of last week's doomed voyage, including an Egyptian named Abu Quassey, identified as the ringleader.
'We have four clear names as well as Abu Quassey,' Hillep said.
The head of the team investigating Friday's sinking, Senior Commissioner Budi Utama, said the other four were believed to be Iraqi nationals.