- Corrupt cop Labora Sitorus was convicted of illegal logging and money laundering in 2014. More than $100 million had passed through his bank accounts.
- Last week, Sitorus escaped from prison. It wasn’t the first time he had slipped away.
- On Monday he turned himself in and is now in solitary confinement in Jakarta.
The corrupt police officer whose multiple prison escapes have made a mockery of the Indonesian justice system turned himself in on Monday morning after a weekend on the lam.
Labora Sitorus had slipped away on Thursday evening while being transferred to the maximum-security Cipinang Prison in Jakarta.
It was hardly a feat of El Chapo proportions: the low-ranking cop simply rode away on a motorbike from his private residence, where the authorities – for reasons unclear – had allowed him to spend the night.
On Monday, Sitorus surrendered himself at a police station in Sorong, the capital of West Papua province. By the end of the day he had reportedly been flown to Jakarta and placed in solitary confinement.
The episode was “a farce of the highest magnitude,” said Faith Doherty, a forest campaigner with London-based NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
“For all those who have risked their lives investigating this policeman and his criminal syndicate, and for all those champions within government…to have this thrown in their faces again is unacceptable,” she added.
The last time Sitorus escaped, he was gone for six months before the public even realized it.
In October 2014, right after the Supreme Court convicted him of illegal logging and money laundering and sentenced him to eight years behind bars, prosecutors went to retrieve him from his temporary detention in Sorong Prison. But Sitorus was long gone.
He hadn’t traveled far: Sitorus was simply staying at his home, which doubles as a massive wood-processing complex operated by one of his companies, PT Rotua. The previous March, the warden had granted him a short medical leave, and he had simply never returned to the penitentiary.
Four months passed before Sitorus was finally recaptured. Rather than apprehend him by force, officials opted for a “persuasive approach.” The decision might have had something to do with the hundreds of Rotua employees standing guard at his private residence. Or maybe it concerned the enormous amount of dirt he claimed to have on a long list of former superiors. “I will reveal all of the games behind this case,” Sitorus told the journalists he allowed into the complex in February 2015.
At the time, EIA’s Jago Wadley said, “When convicted timber crooks are allowed to simply waltz out of prison and remain at large for 10 months without their absence being reported, and when that convicted criminal is a policeman accused of bribing senior police officials, Indonesia looks like a mafia state.”
Sitorus got his entrepreneurial start in the 1980s selling basic goods aboard ships in Sorong and exporting fish. Later he joined the police, “just to bolster his business,” according to the investigative weekly Tempo.
He started making real money shipping liquor in from Sulawesi island and selling it in the slums. “It was from that enterprise that Labora learned the ropes of conspiring with other members of the security forces, in particular the Indonesian Navy,” Tempo writes. Alcohol led to illegal timber and fuel. “He became so powerful that one navy officer was reassigned because he would not allow passage of one of Labora’s ships.”
Paying off law enforcers was a pillar of his business. Senior personnel hit him up so often that became known as “cash machine.” In 2013, Indonesia’s dirty money watchdog, the PPATK, found that 1.5 trillion rupiah ($114 million) had passed through his accounts during a five-year span. The evidence led to his money laundering conviction.
Seized shipments of illegal timber were also used against him. Most of the wood was destined for China, according to the EIA, but the NGO said it had “seen official trade data showing that known buyers of merbau [wood] from Sitorus’ company have subsequently shipped tens of millions of dollars worth of merbau to buyers in Europe, Australia and the U.S. in recent years.”
Follow Philip Jacobson on Twitter: @philjacobius