Islamic Lifestyle

Umrah scam: Indonesia’s convicted First Travel owners file for review of ruling on assets

JAKARTA – The owners of First Travel who were convicted in 2018 of defrauding some 63,310 would-be umrah pilgrims of around 905 billion rupiah have filed a judicial review on the confiscation of the company’s assets.

The lawyer for Andika Surrachman, Anniesa Hasibuan, and Siti Nuraida Hasibuan told Salaam Gateway the request for a review was brought about by new evidence that he believes should treat the initial case under civil and not criminal law.

In 2018, the Depok District Court in West Java sentenced Andika to 20 years in jail, Anniesa 18 years, and Siti Nuraida 15 years.

Their company’s assets of around 25 billion rupiah were also ordered to be confiscated. The Supreme Court in 2019 upheld this ruling on the confiscation of assets.

Now, Boris Tampubolon, the lawyer representing the First Travel founders, says the assets should be returned to the company so that it can compensate its victims.  

“Assets that were confiscated by the state in fact do not reflect justice,” said Boris.

His argument is that the assets should not have been confiscated as First Travel claimed, before the owners were charged and sentenced, that they had reached an agreement with the would-be pilgrims to compensate them.

He added that while criminal accusations addressed First Travel business activities for the period 2015 to 2017, all their assets from 2009 to 2014 were also confiscated, including houses and cars. Some of the assets were claimed by “irresponsible parties” he said, without giving any details.

At the upcoming trial, whose schedule is expected to be announced in the next two weeks, the lawyer will bring an expert witness on the criminal act of money laundering (AML), Yunus Husein, who was behind AML law number 8/2010.

Prof. Mudzakkir, a criminal law expert from Universitas Islam Indonesia does not agree that the First Travel case should be tried under civil law as the money scammed from would-be pilgrims was used for individual interests such as buying luxury goods, houses, and cars, and not for business interests. The court was right to treat the case under criminal law, said Prof. Mudzakkir.

“Actually, if First Travel had good intentions from the outset and were really willing to return the money to the victims, and they still have money, they can just do it without having to file a judicial review,” he said.

“On the other side, the ruling of the Depok State Court, and also the Supreme Court ruling that echoed it, backfired because the ruling said that all assets are confiscated by the state. Full stop. It should be ‘comma’ with additional explanations, that the assets confiscated by the state will be returned to would-be pilgrims once the state is able to prove any proof of payments or any physical or electronic documents, for instance,” he added.  

Prof. Mudzakkir believes that when the State Court handed down its ruling, it did not have the list of names of the scammed victims but still, the court should have stated that they would be compensated if and when the would-be pilgrims provide proof of payments.

“I think the ruling of the state court and supreme court should be cancelled and the case should be tried under civil law to deliver fairness and give some comfort to the victims. If this case is solved via civil law, there is a higher chance the victims can get their rights back. The current ruling lowered the value of the confiscated assets and is exposed to suspension of debt payment obligation or bankruptcy. Any chance for the victims to get their rights back is lower,” he added.

The professor suggests a “more progressive solution”.

“The assets would be transferred to a so-called state-owned enterprise travel agent that will provide guarantees for the victims and make sure they get to depart for their intended pilgrimage. The government, in this case the ministry of state-owned enterprises or the ministry of finance or the ministry or religious affairs, should give the victims the incentive, and take responsibility for not supervising First Travel the right way the first time round.”

News of the umrah scam case that first broke in 2017 received international media attention due to the high profile of the co-founder of First Travel, Aniesa Hasibuan. She made fashion history when she showed an all-hijab modest fashion collection at New York Fashion Week in September 2016. She was involved in NYFW again in February 2017.

(Reporting by Yosi Winosa; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])

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