Remember Dimas Kanjeng, the murderous conman who pretended he could create money out of thin air? He was convicted of fraud this month, but received no sentence because of a legal technicality.
The oily-haired swindler, whose real name is Taat Pribadi, was born in East Java in 1970. In 2000, he started a mystical cult and later claimed he could magically increase people’s money. He was actually just running an occasional Ponzi scheme – doubling the money of some of his followers by persuading new followers to also hand over their cash and jewellery.
Many of his duped disciples were given counterfeit cash and fake gold. Local media reports said he accumulated a personal fortune of at least Rp500 billion (then US$38 million) from his tens of thousands of followers.
When two of his associates threatened to expose the scam, Taat ordered his security guards to murder them. The first was killed in February 2015, the second in April 2016. Taat was arrested in September 2016 and charged with murder and fraud.
On August 1, 2017, Kraksaan District Court in Probolinggo, East Java, sentenced Taat to 18 years in jail for masterminding the murders. Prosecutors had demanded life imprisonment, but judges said the lighter sentence was justified because the murders were his first offense.
Both Taat and state prosecutors appealed the murder verdict, which was upheld by Surabaya High Court. The two sides then appealed to the Supreme Court, which in February 2018 quietly rejected both appeals. The Supreme Court’s online archive does not contain a copy of the verdict explaining why the judges rejected the prosecutor’s request for life imprisonment.
On August 24, 2017, Kraksaan District Court sentenced Taat to two years in jail for fraud for scamming Rp800 million from one of his followers, Prayitno Suprihadi. Presiding judge Basuki Wiyono said Taat was spared a heavier sentence because he was “always polite and cooperative” during the trial – even though he had consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Once again, the two sides appealed the verdict. This time, Surabaya District Court in January 2019 increased Taat’s sentence to three years. The two verdicts meant Taat was sentenced to a total of 21 years in jail.
On December 5, 2018, Surabaya District Court convicted Taat of scamming Rp10 billion from another of his followers, Muhammad Ali, who in 2014 had been promised his cash would be used for charitable purposes, and would be multiplied to Rp60 billion.
Presiding judge Anne Rusiana said that although Taat was “legally and convincingly” guilty of fraud, she could not give him any additional jail time because Indonesian law does not allow a person to be cumulatively sentenced to more than 20 years.
What? Yes, let’s take a look at Indonesia’s antiquated Criminal Code. Specifically Article 12. It states that imprisonment is either for life or temporary. It then stipulates the term of temporary imprisonment is at least one day and at most 15 years, or a maximum of 20 years in consecutive cases. Paragraph 4 of Article 12 states, “In no case the term of twenty years may be exceeded.”
Thanks to that clause, Taat cannot be sentenced to further jail time. He expressed gratitude to the judge for her ruling.
Taat was not represented by a lawyer during his third trial, saying he knew he would be convicted. Nevertheless, he appeared happy when arriving for the final session. After being greeted by some of his remaining followers, who kissed his hand, he smiled and gave a thumbs-up.
State prosecutor Rachmat Hari Basuki, who had recommended a four-year jail sentence, said he would appeal the decision not to extend Taat’s imprisonment.
Fruit, Soup, Beards
The trial heard defence testimony from a spokesman for Taat, Yudha Sandi, who insisted the mystic really could create money out of thin air by putting his hands behind his back. He also claimed Taat could materialize grapes, apples, rawon noodles, meatballs and soup. When the judge asked if the noodle soup appeared in bowls, Yudha replied, “No, in a plastic bag,” prompting hoots of laughter from some of those present. Angered by the derision, Yudha swore that his guru really did have such powers.
The pathetic truth is that Taat simply performed basic conjuring tricks, producing money and food concealed in his robes.
The judges asked Taat to demonstrate his magic and he agreed to do so at a later date, but he then failed to show up for the next three sessions, claiming to be suffering from vertigo, so the request was dropped.
Also during the trial, it emerged that one of Taat’s assistants, Vijay, had recruited a motorcycle taxi driver to find seven elderly men with long, white beards. The seven were brought to Probolinggo and dressed up in robes, posing as spiritual figures alongside Taat to convince people he was a holy man. The men, who included labourers and vagrants, were paid Rp5 million for their efforts. Vijay also recruited 10 sales promotion girls, who were each paid Rp3 million to dress up as employees of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to convince people to give their money to Taat.
Taat used some of his ill-gotten money to establish a compound and campground for his cult at Wangkal village in Probolinggo district. The site remains occupied by hundreds of his deluded followers, still hoping he will multiply their money.
The local chapter of the Indonesian Ulemas Association (MUI) and other Islamic groups have asked police and East Java’s governor to shut down the compound, but to no avail.
MUI official Muhammad Yasin questioned why one anyone would still follow Taat after he had been convicted of fraud and murder. Why indeed would anyone support a corrupt, convicted murderer? Money.