Citibank employees killed customer over disputed credit card debt

Citi employees killed a Jakarta customer when he questioned his credit card bill at a Citi office. Another Citi employee embezzled millions from customers. Indonesia banned Citi from acquiring new customers for two years and they are not allowed to open new branches for a year.

Why didn’t they just kick Citi out as Japan did?

Despite the government sanctions, Citibank Indonesia representative Otto Hasibuan claims it’s too soon for a lawsuit by the widow because the employees have not yet been convicted in court.

In the Citibank Case, a Long Wait for Answers
Ulma Haryanto | September 27, 2011

It’s been six months since the secretary general of a little-known political party was declared dead at one of Citibank’s offices in Jakarta, and now there might finally be legal closure.

It has been a long wait for Esi Ronaldi, the 47-year-old widow of Irzen Octa, who is still struggling to pick up the pieces of her life, doing the work of two parents for her two teenage daughters, Grace and Citra.

“[Irzen] used to drop off and pick up the girls from school. Now I have to do it,” Esi told the Jakarta Globe on Monday. “The girls miss their father so much.”

Irzen’s death was a personal tragedy for the family, but it also sent shock waves through the banking industry as questions were asked about how he died in the Citibank office while meeting with representatives about his unpaid credit card bills.

For Citibank, the death came as it was still reeling from news that one of its wealth managers, Inong Malinda Dee, had allegedly stolen money from clients. Inong is now awaiting trial on charges that she embezzled at least Rp 29 billion ($3.2 million).

The South Jakarta Prosecutor’s Office has said it will soon present an indictment in Irzen’s case.

“It’s going to be submitted to the court this week. It took us quite a while since there was a lot of attention from the public, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t make any careless mistakes,” said Masyhudi, a prosecutor.

That might bring some comfort to Esi, who doesn’t work outside the home and has had to rely on handouts from relatives to support herself and her daughters. “The kids wanted to get jobs, but I told them they had to finish school first,” she said. “I want to start something, but it’s hard to focus.”

Esi said Citibank had at one point offered her compensation, but then she never heard from the bank again. Compensation is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Irzen’s family against Citibank Indonesia at the Central Jakarta District Court.

Slamet Yuwono, the family’s legal representative, said they were seeking Rp 3 trillion in damages for Irzen’s death, based on future living costs for Irzen’s two daughters.

“The parties have reached a deadlock in their negotiations,” Slamet said. “Citibank tried to settle for less, Rp 60 billion, which we refused.”

Otto Hasibuan, representing Citibank Indonesia, said the lawsuit was premature because there was no court ruling finding Citibank responsible for the death.

“They say that Citibank should be responsible for its employees. But which employees?” he said.

Slamet says a court ruling is not necessary for the lawsuit to go forward and the family to seek compensation for their loss.

“Our lawmakers have deemed [Citibank] to be responsible, and it has also been sanctioned by Bank Indonesia,” he said.

After Irzen’s death and Malinda’s embezzlement case, in May the central bank suspended Citibank from acquiring new credit card customers for two years and priority banking clients for one year. It was also suspended from opening new branches for a year.

Citibank’s chief country officer, Shariq Mukhtar, was replaced in the fallout of the scandals.

Regulatory loopholes and a lack of monitoring from the central bank have been blamed for Irzen’s death.

Under “certain circumstances” outsourced debt collectors can be used, according to a 2009 decree from Bank Indonesia. Earlier this month, Comr. Gen. Sutarman, the National Police’s chief of detectives, announced that police officers could become involved in enforcing court rulings in civil cases, including debt collection.

Legal practitioner and consumer rights activist David Tobing is concerned about debt collectors, and the police decision.

“When a debtor, for whatever reason, fails to pay up, then this should be taken to court, not dealt with by employing thugs with no legal understanding,” he said. “On top of that, it is not the police’s domain to interfere in, because debts are civil cases, not criminal.”

And it seems that little seems to have changed in the way some banks and finance companies collect debts.

Last week, the Jakarta Police arrested eight debt collectors and two soldiers apparently moonlighting as collectors. They allegedly seized a car belonging to Elvirawati. The 25-year-old intern at a law firm in Tebet, South Jakarta, said a man claiming to be a debt collector came to her office on Sept. 19 accompanied by two men in military uniforms.

“They said the installments on a car, a Toyota Fortuner, hadn’t been paid for four months. But it was my father’s and I told them to call him instead,” she said.

The men left but returned an hour later with five other men, and insisted on taking her car. “I told them to settle it at the Tebet Police station, and they agreed to go with me to the police,” she said.

Elvirawati said two of the men rode with her in the car. “The other men were following me in two separate cars, and when we got to Tebet Dalam, one of the other cars stopped mine and they ordered me to step out while the men in my car grabbed my keys,” she said.

She immediately went to the police, who tracked her car down the next day.

“We found it at a lender’s office in Jatiwaringin, Bekasi. Its license plate had been changed,” said the Jakarta Police’s chief of detectives, Comr. Herry Heryawan.

HSBC recently sold its American credit card portfolio to Capital One at least in part due to “regulation” and apparently they’ll focus on international business where it’s apparently easier to collect.

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