April 11, 2018

Balinese man gets 15 years’ prison in murder of Japanese couple

An Indonesian court on Monday sentenced a Balinese man to 15 years in prison for robbing and murdering an elderly Japanese couple last year on the tourist island of Bali. The defendant, Putu Astawa, was arrested Sept. 14, two weeks after the discovery of the burned bodies of 73-year-old Hiroko Matsuba and her 76-year-old husband, Norio Matsuba, by their adopted son in their rented house in southern Kuta where the couple had lived for two years. Police said Astawa, 25, attacked the couple using a knife from their house after they resisted his attempt to rob them. After the killing, Astawa drove to Tanah Lot, a popular tourist spot on Bali’s coastline and returned with fuel to burn their bodies, they said.

The woman, who was attacked first, had wounds to her neck and stomach. Her husband had wounds to his back and throat. Astawa was not appealing the Denpasar District Court’s sentence, which is the maximum possible for violent robbery leading to death. Presiding Judge Wayan Sukanila said there was no reason for leniency and the crime had damaged the image of Bali as a tourist destination.

At the time of Astawa’s arrest, police said he had stolen $99 from the couple but it emerged during the trial that he took about $1,045 and the couple’s cellphones. Before Bali, the couple had lived in Bandung, the capital of West Java province, for about 10 years. [Daily Herald March 26, 2018]


Seizure of Equanimity challenged in US, Indonesian courts

The company claiming legal ownership of 1MDB-linked superyacht Equanimity is challenging the seizure of the US$250 million vessel in Indonesian and US courts. Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd, which is also the claimant in the US Department of Justice (DoJ) forfeiture actions, accused Indonesia and the DoJ of acting beyond the bounds of legal rules in both nations in the seizure of the yacht in Bali last month. It said the “needlessly costly and ill-conceived seizure in Indonesian waters” had jeopardised the value of the yacht.

On Monday, lawyers representing the trusts that are fighting the US forfeiture lawsuit for the seized 300-foot vessel lodged a request for an emergency order to keep it in Bali. This followed DoJ plans to move the yacht from Indonesia to the US. Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd said it had filed a reply on Wednesday to correct what it said were factual misstatements and mischaracterisations in the US’ latest filing.

“Contrary to the assertions made in the government’s filing, the location of the vessel has never been a secret nor have the claimants taken steps to jeopardise the vessel’s value. “The government has not taken any steps to prove its case or entitlement to the vessel, and there have been no findings that any wrongdoing occurred. The claimants, as owners of the vessel, intend to continue to protect their rights and their property.” [Free Malaysia Today March 30, 2018]


Grab confirms acquisition of Uber’s South-east Asia business

Singapore-based Grab on Monday (March 26) confirmed that it has acquired Uber’s South-east Asia operations for an undisclosed sum – putting an end to recent speculation about the merger between the two ride-hailing giants. Bloomberg had reported on Sunday that the two companies had reached a deal. Uber will take a 27.5 per cent stake in Grab, a figure which Grab described as “reflective of the companies’ respective market shares”.

With the acquisition, Grab will take over Uber’s operations and assets in eight countries in the region, namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Grab on Monday also said it will take over the operations of Uber’s food delivery business, Uber Eats. Grab will expand its existing GrabFood businesses in Indonesia and Thailand to two more countries – Singapore and Malaysia – following the integration of the Uber Eats business.

Grab said that GrabFood will be available across all major South-east Asian countries in the first half of 2018. “To minimise disruption, Grab and Uber are working together to promptly migrate Uber drivers and riders, Uber Eats customers, merchant partners and delivery partners to the Grab platform.” The Uber app will continue to operate for two weeks to “ensure stability” for Uber drivers, who can sign up online to drive with Grab. Uber Eats will run until the end of May, after which Uber delivery and restaurant partners will move onto the GrabFood platform. [The Straits Times March 26, 2018]


In Bali fish die-offs, researchers spot a human hand

Tilapia is a mainstay of Balinese cuisine, but hundreds of thousands of the freshwater fish choke to death regularly in the resort island’s largest lake, for reasons that researchers say are entirely preventable. Mass fish die-offs are not uncommon in the lakes that dot the string of seismically active islands making up Indonesia, but tend to be the result of natural phenomena.

In Lake Batur, a couple of hours drive east from Denpasar, Bali’s capital and biggest city, the sudden release of sulfur from the bottom of the crater lake last year led to the deaths of 15 tons of tilapia and cost local aquaculture farmers some 400 million rupiah ($29,000).

The first reported mass die-off at Batur, which sits in the caldera of an active volcano of the same name, was in June 2011, and left officials scooping up more than 3 tons of dead fish in just a couple of days. An investigation at the time concluded that the incident was caused by a steep temperature gradient between the air and the water, which generated waves that churned up the mud from the lakebed, killing the fish. Now, however, researchers at Bali’s Udayana University have identified a human factor behind a string of regular die-offs at Batur. The modus operandi: A depletion of oxygen in the water near the surface of the lake. The culprit: Fish feed. Lots of fish feed.

The researchers discovered that the lake contained untenable levels of chemicals – nitrites, sulphides and sulphates – introduced into the water from fish feed. Concentrations of these chemicals were particularly high in fish farms and parts of the lake close to an agricultural waste dump and residential areas. There are about 180 aquaculture operations dotted across Batur, with nearly 9,000 floating steel-framed cages between them, holding primarily Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Fish pellets that go uneaten sink past the cage mesh and into the lake below, dissolving in the water. To prevent further die-offs, the researchers recommended installing finer nets below the cages to catch these pellets. They also suggested stocking the cages with plants that would absorb the excess nutrients introduced by the fish feed.

“The farmers must start to manage their cages properly to reduce the risks,” said Gede Raka Angga Kartika, one of the researchers. Water contamination from fish farms, household and industrial waste, and deforestation have put more than a dozen Indonesian lakes, including Batur, Toba and Maninjau, at risk of dying out, some as early as 2025, researchers warn. [Mongabay March 22, 2018]


Queenslander Joshua Baker avoids jail over drug charges in Bali

Queensland resident Joshua Baker has been spared jail in Indonesia. He was facing up to 15 years behind bars for bringing drugs into the country, but he will instead spend less than a year in a rehabilitation centre in Bali. In October, Baker was held by Bali police after he allegedly tried to bring marijuana and antidepressant pills in the country. Flying from Thailand, he was stopped by customs in Bali when his baggage was scanned. He was found to be carrying 28 grams of marijuana mixed with tobacco and 37 Diazepam antidepressant pills. The 33-year-old Mt Isa native did not have a prescription for the pills.

He escaped police custody after his arrest but was captured about 10 hours later at a hotel in Kuta. His defense team said he suffered from mental health problems. The court heard that he used the cannabis, which he bought from a man at a bar in Cambodia, to self-medicate. Upon sentencing Baker, the three-judge panel at the Denpasar court said the Australian had damaged Bali’s reputation as a tourist destination and had undermined the country’s efforts to combat narcotics.

Head judge I Wayan Kawisada said the accused’s actions contradicted the government’s program to eradicate drugs. However, Kawisada also lessened the sentence from a maximum of 15 years to less than a year in rehab. He said that Baker had shown remorse during the trial, adding that the tourist was “still young” and had psychiatric problems. Kawisada also noted that the accused was polite during court proceedings and had no prior convictions. The panel reportedly disagreed with the prosecutor’s recommendation that Baker be jailed for one year as the defendant needed rehabilitation instead.

“He was proven to not be part of drug network or a dealer, that he was a user because of the mental and health problems,” Kawasida was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying. “Based on doctors and medical records, overseas and in Indonesia, [the court found] that Joshua suffers addictive bipolar that requires him to be medicated and that he has used narcotics since he was 11 years old.”

The judges ordered him to attend 10 months of rehabilitation at the Kita drug treatment facility in Denpasar, around less than four months the time he had already served in jail. Baker can only leave the country and return to Australia in about six months. [International Business Times March 28, 2018]


In an apparent reversal, Jakarta announces north Bali airport will go ahead, but only after north-south toll road built

NusaBali reports an apparent change in direction by National leaders in Jakarta who are now signaling that a planned new international airport in North Bali may still go ahead, despite a report that plans for an airport at Kubutambahan had been scuttled.

The Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, has announced that Bali’s new airport of the north will be built. Pandjatan says the ground breaking for the new airport will take place “if” and “when” the North-South Bali Tollway is constructed. Meanwhile, lawmakers from the Bali House of Representatives (DPRD-Bali) are calling on the Ministry of Transportation to quickly declare the location for the Buleleng Airport. [www.balidiscovery.com April 3, 2018]


Synthetic marijuana factory in Bali uncovered

A joint operation conducted by the National Police and the Soekarno-Hatta Customs Office has uncovered a home industry that illegally produced synthetic marijuana, locally known as gorilla tobacco. The team arrested two men, Krisna Andika Putra, 20, and Anak Agung Ekananda, 24, for allegedly running the small factory that produced 30 kilograms of gorilla tobacco within three months.

National Police narcotics unit head Sr. Comr. Asep Jenal Akhmadi said on Thursday that the Soekarno Hatta Customs Office had tipped off the police in March about a package mailed from China that contained 500 grams of 5F-ADB. The chemical is usually used as raw material in the production of synthetic marijuana. After receiving the information, the two offices began a joint operation to track down the intended recipient of the package.

The team, which was supported by the Bali Police and the Ngurah Rai Customs Office, found a small drugs factory located in a two-story house on Jl. Tunjung Sari, Denpasar, only around 800 meters from the Denpasar Police building. “We confiscated around 30 kg gorilla tobacco ready to be distributed across Indonesia via an online shop, as well as production equipment,” Asep said. The two suspects admitted that the small factory had been running for the last three months. “They were going to distribute their product by an online store […] across Indonesia,” he added. The police are also pursuing the sender of the package. [The Jakarta Post March 22, 2018]