The police chief of Indonesia’s South Sumatra province has lost his job after he publicized a generous donation of Rp2 trillion ($138.7 million) for COVID-19 relief offered by a dead tycoon’s daughter, after the donation turned out to be non-existent.
The National Police on Wednesday (25 August) announced that South Sumatra Police chief, Inspector General Eko Indra Heri, had been dismissed from his position. However, a police spokesman denied the move was linked to public furore over the fake donation, saying it was merely part of a routine rotation of senior officers.
The dodgy donation case started on July 23, when Eko received a phone call from Professor Hardi Darmawan, the director of Charitas Hospital in Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra.
Hardi told Eko that the children of one of his former patients, a deceased tycoon named Akidi Tio, wanted to donate Rp2 trillion to help the people of Palembang cope with the impact of COVID-19.
Akidi Tio, who was originally from Aceh province and made his fortune in palm oil and construction, died in 2009. His daughter Heryanty Tio apparently decided to make the huge donation. Her husband, Rudi Sutadi, later said the late tycoon’s children wanted to use part of their inheritance for charity so they could avoid bad karma.
Eko, the police chief, agreed to receive the funds, which were symbolically presented on July 26 at a public ceremony attended by Heryanty. She handed over a decorated styrofoam board representing the money, which she said would be transferred on August 2.
South Sumatra Governor Herman Deru, local military chief Brigadier General Jauhari Agus Suraji and other dignitaries proudly attended the handover event. Eko said the money would be used to provide the public with free oxygen and medicine, and also for bonuses for medical workers and the construction of isolation centres.
The donation generated significant local media coverage. But the money was not transferred on August 2. South Sumatra Police then questioned Heryanty and Hardi on suspicion of spreading false information.
Netizens criticized police for believing in the donation offer and publicizing it without conducting any due diligence. There were also concerns the fraudulent offer could cause a backlash against ethnic Chinese Indonesians.
Hardi said the donation was originally to have been given via a cheque, but the amount was too high and required supervision from the Financial Services Authority (OJK), so it would be done by bank transfer.
Bank Indonesia denied it had delayed any transfer of the funds because of the large amount of money involved. Instead, a Bank Indonesia official questioned whether the money actually existed.
Heryanty was previously questioned by police in Jakarta over a Rp7.9 billion fraud case in 2020. That case was dropped in July 2021. Police denied there was any connection between the decision to drop the fraud case and the promised donation.
Dismissed, Not Discharged
Upon being removed from his position as police chief of South Sumatra, Eko was transferred to the position of Expert Staff Coordinator to the National Police Chief. His rotation of duty was made after National Police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo sent a special inspection and supervision team to South Sumatra to investigate the bogus donation.
Eko had on August 5 apologized for the case. “The uproar was due to my shortcomings. This happened because of my carelessness. On behalf of myself and as the regional police chief, I apologize to all Indonesian people, particularly the National Police chief,” he was quoted as saying by Tempo.co.
South Sumatra Police spokesman Supriadi said an investigation found that a bank account mentioned by Heryanty did not contain sufficient funds for the donation; however, he said police could not confirm how much money Heryanty has because of banking privacy regulations.
Separately, an obstetrician in South Sumatra, Dr Siti Mirza, has reported Heryanty to police for alleged fraud and embezzlement of Rp2.5 billion.
Siti said she and Heryanty had long been friends and done business together, but their friendship was tested after an import-export deal went sour. She said Heryanty had failed to pay her a promised profit of 10% on her investment in the deal, made in May 2019.
She expressed hope that Heryanty would learn her lesson. “I want Heryanty to learn that every action has consequences and that in the future there will be no new victims,” she was quoted as saying by TRIBUNnews.com. Siti said she would drop the case if Heryanty publicly explains why she “pranked” the police and the community.
If police decide to charge Heryanty with spreading misinformation over the phony donation, she could face up to 10 years in jail. Police have been questioning her at her house, as she has claimed to be suffering poor health.