March 14, 2018

FBI seizes $250 million megayacht

A luxury yacht has been seized in Indonesia as part of an FBI investigation into alleged multibillion-dollar corruption at a Malaysian state-run investment fund. Local police and FBI officers were seen onboard the $250million vessel moored off the tourist island of Bali, on Wednesday. It is owned by Malaysian financier Jho Low, a businessman educated at prestigious British boarding school Harrow, who is friends with Hollywood celebrities like Leonardo Di Caprio.

The yacht is part of $540 million in assets allegedly embezzled from the Malaysian government fund that the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to recover. Overall, the Justice Department says more than $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund, set up in 2009 by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Razak was embroiled in the scandal when it emerged that nearly $1 billion had passed through his personal bank accounts. He and the fund deny any wrongdoing. Among the assets sought by the U.S. Justice Department is Mr Low’s luxury yacht, Equanimity, now seized in Bali. The lawsuits said Low used proceeds diverted from 1MDB to procure Equanimity, which it described as a 300-foot yacht registered in the Cayman Islands.

The vessel has an interior clad in marble and gold leaf, a spa and sauna, a 66-foot swimming pool on deck, a movie theatre, a lift and a helipad, says a website on luxury charters, Low’s whereabouts are unknown and his Hong Kong company has not responded to requests for comment. Agung Setya, director of economic crimes at Indonesia’s national police, told MetroTV that local authorities began working with U.S. authorities a week ago in relation to the vessel. He said it was located on Tuesday in waters off the island of Lombok, which neighbors Bali, and then shifted to Bali’s Tanjung Benoa waters. ‘We have legal confirmation that this asset is the result of a crime,’ he said. ‘Our law stipulates that anyone who hides an asset resulting from the proceeds of crime is committing a money laundering crime.’

Setya said police had secured a court order to seize Equanimity and are questioning its 34 crew. In an emailed statement through his representative in June last year, Low said the DOJ’s actions were an example ‘of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case’. Other assets allegedly bought by Low with stolen 1MDB funds include a private jet, a hotel and real estate in New York, and a $107-million interest in EMI Music Publishing. Some assets have been returned. Australian model and actress Miranda Kerr handed over millions of dollars worth of jewelry that U.S. authorities say was given to her by Low, including a jewelry set gifted to her during a 2014 excursion on Equanimity. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also returned to authorities an Oscar once owned by actor Marlon Brando and other items the United States says were funded with 1MDB money. [Daily Mail February 28, 2018]


Diver films wave of plastic pollution off Bali on scale ‘never seen before’

In a video uploaded to social media, diver Rich Horner is seen swimming through masses of floating plastic garbage at a dive spot usually frequented by manta rays which come to get cleaned. Although the dive site lies off the coast of Nusa Penida – a small island with low population – there is a stretch of only 20 kilometres of water separating Nusa Penida from the island of Bali and its capital Denpasar. “Plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic, plastic, so much plastic!” Mr Horner wrote on Facebook. Mr Horner said the level of plastic at that site varied throughout the year, and there was no plastic visible during the dry season but random clouds and slicks appear during the wet season. He said this trash in the footage had cleared by the next day.

Janis Argeswara, a marine science student at Udayana University, said she was shocked about the manta rays swimming in a “pile of trash”. “Bali’s economy depends heavily on tourism for income,” she said. Large ocean species attract thousands of wildlife enthusiasts to tourism destinations such as Indonesia every year. They also make up a large part of Australia’s tourism dollars. And while the waters of South-East Asia are some of the worst affected in terms of plastic waste, rubbish is also entering Australian waters.

Researchers have long found a microplastic hot spot near the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, which is famous for its whale shark encounters. Many of the species at risk from microplastics are endangered already. The world’s largest fish, the whale shark, is listed as vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with only 7,000 remaining species in 2016. With a decreasing current population trend, manta rays have also been designated a threatened species. “I just really want to make a fuss about this and draw attention to these amazing creatures, knowing that they are important to tourism, so that these countries consider protecting their assets,” Ms Germanov said. [ABC News March 6, 2018]


Indonesia brings together former militants and attack survivors

Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency on Wednesday held a controversial meeting of 124 former Islamic militants and 51 survivors of a string of attacks in the country, including the deadly Bali bombings. The gathering was part of a broader deradicalization push by authorities in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, which has pioneered new initiatives to tackle the problem. Chusnul Kotimah, who was badly burned in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, said she was prepared to forgive those behind the attacks. “I can accept the situation. I can forgive them,” she told Reuters at the event in a central Jakarta hotel, adding that she had told former militants that as a fellow Muslims there was no justification for such terror.

Nonetheless, the head of a survivors’ group who decided not to go criticized holding a mass meeting under the glare of the media. Other survivors said they needed more support and medical help from authorities. “The mass reconciliation by BNPT (Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency) is too risky for the victims, in terms of their mental state and psychology, and for their trauma,” said Sucipto Hari Wibowo, co-founder of the Indonesian Survivors Foundation and a survivor of the 2004 Australian embassy attack in Jakarta. But Indonesia’s chief security minister, Wiranto, who uses one name like many Indonesians, said he wanted such events to be held regularly. Also attending were the country’s social, higher education and manpower ministers, who pledged to help survivors with health care and employment.

A former militant said meeting survivors had helped him understand the suffering of attack victims. “I think this is the most effective way of deradicalization, because in the past there were some terrorists who (until they met the victims) were not aware that their deeds were wrong,” said Sofyan Tsauri, who was convicted of supplying weapons to a militant training camp in the province of Aceh. Indonesia has suffered a series of major militant attacks over the years, the worst of which was the 2002 Bali bombing, which spurred Western nations offer help in forming an elite counter-terrorism unit that has proved effective. But recent years have seen a resurgence in home-grown militancy, largely inspired by Islamic State. Hundreds of Indonesians are believed to have traveled to Syria to join the group, but many have returned as it has lost territory. It was only human to still hold on to anger, said Deny Mahieu, a police officer wounded in the right leg during 2016 bomb and gun attacks in central Jakarta, after meeting one of the suspects in his case. “But… if we still feel vengeful it will not solve the problem,” he said. [Reuters February 28, 2018]


North Bali airport ‘cancellation’ not final, still under consideration

The Ministry of Transportation (Menhub) seems far from gung ho about building an airport in North Bali, but conclusions about the airport being flat out “cancelled” are premature, Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said on Monday. A study from the World Bank and state-owned infrastructure financing company PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur (SMI) has recommended that the development of the airport not go through and that resources instead be used to improve South Bali’s I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport, but Sumadi says a final decision has not yet been made. “We are reviewing (the study). It is not final, but there are suggestions to concentrate on South Bali. It’s not final,” Karya said on Monday, as quoted by Detik.

While Sumadi apparently declined to go too deeply into the study, he did say it’s been evaluating           economic, social, and environmental impacts. The Coordinating Minister for the Ministry of Marine Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan had previously stated on Friday that the construction of the North Bali Airport was cancelled. The airport, a project estimated to cost IDR 27 trillion (US$1.9 billion) would be built in Bali’s quiet regency of Buleleng, where relatively few tourists travel to. The regency is about 90   kilometers north of busy tourist hub Kuta.

Bali’s current governor Made Mangku Pastika has been a huge proponent of the airport, insisting it will usher in even more tourists and will spread the development out to the island’s rural north as a tourism destination of its own. There has been talk of an airport up on Bali’s lesser-developed north end for years, but little action. This is partly because of the challenge of land acquisition, an obstacle that the project hopes to sidestep by instead reclaiming land to build an artificial island.[Coconuts Bali March 6, 2018]


Two Australian crew members held after 91 metre luxury superyacht was seized off Bali

Two Australians on a $250 million luxury yacht off the coast in Bali are currently embroiled in an international fraud investigation. 29 crew members, including the two Australians, were cruising on a deluxe 91m yacht named Equanimity fitted with its own sauna, swimming pool and helipad before it was seized by authorities. The FBI and Indonesian authorities are leading an investigation into an alleged money laundering scheme worth more than five billion dollars.

The luxury vessel registered in the Cayman Islands and the US justice department claims it is owned by Malaysian tycoon Jho Low, who is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the Malaysian government fund between 2009 and 2015. FBI officials allege the vessel’s owners had attempted to evade Southeast Asian waters to avoid questioning over a $5.7 billion international fraud case, The Herald Sun reports. The FBI and Indonesian police boarded the Equanimity where they questioned the yacht’s captain and crew. According to the FBI, the yacht’s captain a young South African named Rolf Sieboldt-Berry is a suspect and is being questioned by police to assist in their investigations. A police spokesman in Jakarta said Mr Sieboldt-Berry is a suspect for not turning over the yacht wanted for assets seizure and could be liable under money laundering laws. [Daily Mail March 2, 2018]


Thieves use explosives to rob ATM machine in South Kuta

A brazen and violent group of thieves robbed an ATM owned by CIMB Bank Niaga located at the Nirmala Shopping Center on Jalan Pantai Balangan in South Kuta on Thursday, March 1, 2018. As reported by, the thieves blew up an ATM and got away with an estimated Rp. 390 million after attacking and stabbing a 50-year-old watchman, I Made Suwitra. The robbery took place at 2:30 am with local residents roused from the sleep by the sound of the loud explosion.

A local eyewitness, I Wayan Sentana (41), said the sound of the explosion sounded like what he thought was a bomb. When Santana and his wife walked to the ATM but were driven back by the hot atmosphere surrounding the ATM. Another witness told police that he saw a black Innova and a one Avanza parked on the eastern side of the ATM. The same witness also said he saw two men wearing masks near the ATM and vehicles. It is believed that the Innova was used to remove the ATM from the scene.

Police say the robbers threatened, beat, and bound the watchman who was bruised and lost two teeth in the incident. The guard was brought to a local hospital for treatment. Police are theorizing that the same group who robbed at Maybank ATM on Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai on November 17, 2018, where a watchman was also viciously assaulted, performed the latest robbery. [ March 6, 2018]


Australia urges Indonesia against showing cleric leniency

Australia on Saturday urged Indonesia against any leniency toward the ideological leader of the Bali bombers as the government considers house arrest or other forms of clemency for the ailing radical cleric who is now in prison. Wiranto, Indonesia’s top security minister, said Friday that a meeting of security ministers and police will make a recommendation on Abu Bakar Bashir’s treatment to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. “Clemency, pardon, house arrest or just hospital treatment. It will be discussed in the near future and will be reported to the president,” said Wiranto, who uses a single name.

Bashir, who turns 80 in August, was treated in a Jakarta hospital on Thursday for pooling of blood in the legs, a common condition in the elderly known as chronic venous insufficiency, and later returned to prison. Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said on Thursday that the government plans to place Bashir under house arrest so he can be cared for by his family or transfer him to a prison near his hometown, Solo in Central Java, according to local media.

His numerous sympathizers hope Jokowi will grant him a permanent release due to his poor health, a move that would help mend fences between hard-line Muslims and Jokowi ahead of a presidential election in 2019 but alarm allies such as the United States and Australia. Jokowi’s approval ratings remain high with the broader Indonesian public. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s office on Saturday described Bashir as the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners including 88 Australians. Bishop’s office said in a statement that Australians expected justice to continue to be served to “the full extent that Indonesian law allows.” “Abu Bakar Bashir should never be allowed to incite others to carry other future attacks against innocent civilians,” the statement added.

Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 for supporting a military-style training camp for Islamic militants. The firebrand cleric was arrested almost immediately after the Bali bombing. But prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations. He was instead sentenced to 18 months in prison for immigration violations. Jokowi’s spokesman, Johan Budi, said the president will review the case, and house arrest is “possible under the law.” He said a suggestion to pardon Bashir came from Indonesian Ulema Council chairman Ma’ruf Amin and would require Bashir to apply for clemency. That appears unlikely as it would involve Bashir recognizing secular authority. After being sentenced in 2011, he said he rejected the conviction because it was based on “infidel” law. [AP March 3, 2018]