July 4, 2018

Woman in Bali murder gives up claim to mother’s estate

‘Body In A Suitcase’ murderer Heather Mack has given up her claim on her mother’s million dollar estate – which will now go to her three-year-old daughter Stella. Mack is serving a ten year sentence in one of the world’s most notorious prisons in Bali for murdering her mom Sheila von Wiese-Mack with her boyfriend Tommy Schaefer in 2014 in a plot to take her inheritance.

Mack was due to receive a regular income from her mother’s estate until she turned 30 when she was to inherit $1.6 million, according to Sheila’s will which named her as the sole heir. But Sheila’s brother William Wiese, the executor of Sheila’s million-dollar estate, refused to pay out, citing the Illinois slayer statute which states if you’re involved in a murder and you’re a beneficiary of a trust of the person you murdered, you lose all rights as a beneficiary. The ensuing legal battle between Mack and the estate has already eaten up around half of Sheila’s estate. Finally, on Wednesday, both sides reached a settlement which states that Mack will not receive ‘any property, benefit, or other interest.’ The sole beneficiary will be Mack’s daughter, Stella, who was born in the Indonesian prison in March 2015 while she and Schaefer awaited trial. More detailed financial terms of the settlement agreement are confidential.

William Wiese said he was pleased with the outcome. ‘My goal from Day 1 was to resolve this case and save as much money as possible for Stella,’ he told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday. ‘While I wish it could have been sooner, I’m glad it is finally resolved.’ He added that he’d been determined to stop his niece from benefiting from her mother’s murder. Mack’s attorney, Vanessa Favia, said her client was also glad the matter was resolved. She said that Mack had always wanted her daughter to receive the inheritance but had also asked for some funds for her education when she got out of jail. ‘The settlement is a fair resolution for all parties,’ Favia said Wednesday.

A Cook County judge has initially allowed about $150,000 from the estate to be used to pay Mack’s overseas criminal attorney and fund her medical care. But after she was convicted, she was refused any further funds. Stella spent her first two years being raised inside Kerobokan Prison by her mom before she was taken away and placed with a local foster family. When Stella was in prison, she also received a stipend from the Wiese Trust for clothes, food and medical care for the infant. But the food and other goods bought by the trust was being sold to other prisoners in return for junk food, booze and cigarettes, according to her ex Schaefer. He says: ‘Big up to Heather for keeping Stella in jail so the trust has to pay for her food as well that she cooks and sells for cash to buy cigarettes, Coca Cola and chocolate that stabilizes Stella’s diet.’

Mack was pregnant with Stella, when she and Schaefer plotted to kill Sheila, a millionaire Chicago socialite, in August 2014, at an upmarket hotel in Bali, Indonesia. They then dumped her destroyed body in a suitcase, hailed a taxi and fled. Schaefer got eighteen years imprisonment and Mack ten, even though it was her own mother. Authorities say Mack and Schaefer discussed killing von Weise-Mack in text messages.

Stella is being cared for by Oshar Putu Melody Suartama, a Balinese Australian, who befriended Mack during the trial. Now the family firmly believe that the US federal authorities are determined that Mack and Schaefer will face trial on their return to the US, as it’s clear they lied in the Indonesian trial and there is no double jeopardy with Indonesia. [Brinkwire June 21, 2018]


Lake Toba tragedy: Victims trapped as ferry sank

Statements from survivors of an overloaded ferry in Indonesia revealed that most of the victims had been trapped in the vessel’s lower deck when it sank in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, last week. “When the boat was sinking, its lower deck was packed with passengers,” Mr Budiawan, head of the Medan search and rescue (SAR) team in North Sumatra, told The Jakarta Post. As of Sunday, the team has found 22 passengers, 19 of whom survived. The exact number of people travelling that day remains unknown as the ferry had been overloaded, though authorities’ have estimated 184 passengers were on board. The ferry’s maximum capacity is 60 passengers.

SAR personnel faced a number of challenges in their search for missing victims, including the lake’s cold temperatures in the evenings, which meant they could dive only during the day. Divers have also been unable to locate the vessel, KM Sinar Bangun, as they had been warned against going past a depth of 80m.On Sunday, after seven days of searching, multibeam and side-scan sonars detected two objects at 490m beneath the surface that resembled the sunken ferry, according to National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) head, Air Marshal M. Syauqi. SAR teams employed two methods in their attempt to locate the vessel: combing the waters within a 32km radius of Tigaras Port and diving with sonar devices. “We are still processing our findings,” Mr Syauqi said, adding that chances were high the objects detected by sonar were the remains of the ferry. According to Mr Arie Prasetyo, head of the Lake Toba Authority board, the search for KM Sinar Bangun was being conducted by Basarnas survey, private company Mahakarya Geo Survey and the Bandung Institute of Technology Alumni Association. “As for the next step, we will hand over the process of identifying KM Sinar Bangun to the authorities,” Mr Arie told the Post.

KM Sinar Baru capsized on June 18 at about 5pm local time as it was travelling from Simanindo Port to Tigaras Port in Simalungun. The ferry’s captain, only identified as TS, was detained by Samosir police on Sunday and declared a suspect in the incident. According to National Police chief Tito Karnavian, this was not TS’s first time steering an overloaded ferry. He said investigators would also question related parties that were supposed to be responsible for the boat, such as the transportation agency and the local harbour master. “I will not hesitate to take action against whoever is responsible; not only the captain but also those responsible for monitoring the vessel’s operation,” General Tito said on Sunday as quoted by tribunnews.com.

The sinking of KM Sinar Bangun is the latest in a long list of similar accidents that highlight the negligence of small boat operators when it comes to passenger safety. According to Mr Saut Gurning, dean of the November 10 Institute of Technology’s marine engineering postgraduate programme, safety awareness among small boat operators remained low, and passenger safety was not a priority to them. However, vessel operators are not the only ones to blame as regulators, and even passengers themselves, have little awareness regarding the safety requirements of boats, he said. “These small vessel operators often use their own experiences to take care of passenger safety instead of actual passenger safety standards. For example, they provide safety equipment, but they only provide it in certain quantities, which, in many, does not match the number of passengers on board,” he said. Furthermore, operators often attempt to fit more passengers on their boats than their maximum capacity, he added, pointing to the local tuktuk (motorboat) on Samosir as an example. “Most tuktuk can only carry up to 50 people at the same time, but the captain allows 70 people to board. This is a common practice in the area,” Mr Saut said. [The Straits Times June 25, 2018]


Indonesia orders expatriates to learn Bahasa Indonesia, triggering concern

Indonesia is making it easier for foreigners to work here – but they will have to study as well. A decree by President Joko Widodo that is set to take effect this month will simplify Indonesia’s procedures for issuing work permits to  foreigners, which are often hampered by delays, arbitrary denials and revocations, not to mention compulsory bribes to civil servants just to stamp the paperwork. Buried inside the order is a section requiring all expatriate workers to undergo formal Indonesian language training, an apparent first for any nation in Southeast Asia. The foreign business community has been caught off guard by the new requirement.

The government has not explained the reasoning behind the language requirement. But it may be an attempt by Joko, who is running for re-election next year, to placate political rivals who say he is “opening the floodgates” to foreign workers by streamlining the process for obtaining work permits. Indonesia, a country of 260 million people, currently has about 126,000 working Asian and Western expatriates, a low percentage compared with neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia.

Suryo B. Sulisto, a prominent Indonesian business executive said it made little sense to address        concerns about illegal foreign labour by imposing a language requirement on bankers, engineers and other professionals. “This is another part of bureaucracy where it’s a moneymaking opportunity for someone,” he said. “People will get into the business of issuing fake language certificates.” In 2015, Joko publicly quashed a draft regulation requiring all expatriate workers to be proficient in the Indonesian language, saying it was bad for business. But his own decree requires companies to arrange and pay for foreigners working in the country for longer than six months to take Indonesian language courses at local schools, and to provide attendance certificates. The order goes into force Tuesday. Some details, like how many class hours are required per week, are still being decided. Johan Budi, Joko’s spokesman, played down any political infighting or the possibility of negative economic repercussions, insisting that the order does not require that expatriates be fluent in the Indonesian language to be employed. [New Straits Times June 24, 2018]


David Bowie and the art of dying

The clues were there in the videos and artwork he produced in his final months – David Bowie knew his end was near. But sheer will power kept him alive long enough to release his last record, an American forensic expert believes. The cancer-ravaged icon clung on to see “self-epitaph” album Blackstar on sale and his musical Lazarus open on Broadway before succumbing to the disease in January 2016. He used the album to “deal with his approaching death creatively”, said leading pathologist Dr Michael Hunter. But he rejects conspiracy theories about the cause of death in a TV documentary, despite his family’s secrecy. Bowie was cremated within hours of dying, two days after his 69th birthday, and his ashes were scattered over water in Bali, Indonesia, as he had requested. [Express June 17, 2018]


Bali’s Mt Agung volcano erupts again, closing Denpasar Airport and leaving flights cancelled

Dozens of flights to and from the Indonesian holiday island of Bali have been grounded or delayed on the eve of the school holidays as clouds of volcanic ash spew more than two kilometres into the air from the Mount Agung volcano. Airlines are updating their advice and are expected to cancel more flights throughout the day after Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International Airport was closed at 3:00am local time (5:00am AEST) today. It is not due to reopen until at least 7:00pm local time. In a tweet, the airport advised people to “stay updated for every information from our official account”. Airlines are waiting to see whether the airport will reopen later tonight. School holidays start for Victoria and Western Australia tomorrow. Virgin Australia has told the ABC it has cancelled all flights to Denpasar today, as has AirAsia. Jetstar cancelled several flights overnight and is expected to cancel more this morning.

One Jetstar flight bound for Denpasar from Perth overnight was forced to land in Port Hedland to re-fuel before returning to Perth. Donna Barwood and her family arrived at Perth airport his morning and told ABC Radio Perth their school holiday plans had been dashed for the second time in months. “We were due to fly out the beginning of December last year and all flights were cancelled then, and it was the same volcano – it does not like us,” she said. “We’re looking at other flights, but unfortunately Jetstar left it so late that all the other flights are now booked.” Meteorologists and pilots will spend today assessing weather conditions and the ash cloud to determine whether the airport will be able to re-open tomorrow morning. Most travel insurance policies for Bali have excluded any volcano-related incidents since it began erupting last year, as it is considered a known risk. [ABC News June 29, 2018]


Bank Indonesia pulling old rupiah banknotes issued in 1998 and 1999 by end of year

Indonesia’s central bank, Bank Indonesia (BI), is continuing its modernization of the rupiah, following the launch of new bank notes in 2016, with the pulling of some old ones. As announced in a press release, BI is pulling four bank notes, which were  issued in 1998 and 1999, and has given citizens until December 30, 2018 to exchange them with new bank notes. The four bank notes are: IDR10K, issued in 1998 and features the picture of Cut Nyak Dien; IDR20K, issued in 1998 and features the picture of Ki Hajar Dewantara; IDR50K, issued in 1999 and features the picture of W.R. Supratman; and IDR100K, issued in 1999 and features the pictures of Soekarno and Hatta. Citizens are able to exchange these bank notes for new ones at BI offices throughout Indonesia. BI says it’s pulling old bank notes from circulation because they lack security features that prevent money from being counterfeited. The new rupiah bank notes, for example, features the rectoverso technology, which a certain hardline cleric somehow accused as a way that the central bank can secretly fit communist symbols into the rupiah. [Coconuts Bali June 26, 2018]