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Reality Check in Manhattan

Two Acehnese businessmen were arrested for attempting to cash a phony check. They could be victims of Internet fraud.

A SHOCKING news item appeared in the local media this past fortnight: two businessmen, members of the Aceh Governor’s delegation in the United States, were arrested by the New York Police Department. “I received confirmation about the news from the Governor’s group,” said Muhammad Nazar, Deputy Governor of Aceh, last Thursday.

This is not exactly a pleasant report of Governor Irwandi Yusuf’s trip to the US, which he began on September 9, along with 20 officials and businessmen. The group had planned to return to Indonesia this week. According to Nazar, the trip was aimed at exploring cooperation with American businessmen and state governments.

The group had been in the US two days when the incident occurred. One morning, Salahuddin Alfata and Lukman Cut Mansur disengaged themselves from the group and headed towards Citibank in Manhattan.

Salahuddin is CEO of PT Seulawah Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam who once ran for Deputy Governor of Aceh as the teammate of gubernatorial candidate Ghazali Abbas Adan. Lukman is Managing Director of PT Pelita Nusa Perkasa and Chairman of the Aceh Alliance of Construction Entrepreneurs. According to Indonesian Consul General in New York, Trie Edi Mulyani, Lukman intended to open an account at Citibank.

Lukman was asked to meet certain conditions. One of them was an initial deposit. But Lukman’s money turned out to be insufficient. “Salahuddin then offered Lukman his money,” said Trie.

Salahuddin told Lukman he had funds, but not in the form of cash. He then took a check with the imprint of the Central Bank of Nigeria and US$32.5 million written on it. A fantastic amount indeed.

He then gave the check to the bank teller to be cashed, who processed it for verification. The bank officer told Salahuddin and Lukman that the check was a fake. Not long after that, the police came. “They were then arrested,” said Trie.

Attempting to cash a check with such an amount was nothing short of fantastic. According to Trie Edi, banks in the US normally question their customers intensively even when they are cashing a US$10,000 check. He suspects that the Acehnese businessmen had transferred a certain amount of money to obtain the check.

According to the bank, an attempt to cash the check had once been made in Citibank Jakarta, with no success. Citibank spokesperson in Indonesia, Ditta Amahorseya, was unable to confirm the news. “We know nothing about it,” said Ditta, last Friday.

Salahuddin was then taken to the detention center in Manhattan. Lukman was released since he was considered to have no connection with the false check. The Indonesian Consulate General then made their move.

The next day, a consulate officer visited Salahuddin to check whether or not he was accompanied by a lawyer. Apparently he had been offered pro bono legal assistance by the court.

Meanwhile, Salahuddin’s wife Misriawati confirmed that she heard about her husband’s arrest from one her children who was attending college in Australia. She immediately contacted her husband. “He is well,” said Misriawati.

Firda Fitria Alfata, Salahuddin’s daughter, also read the news about her father from local newspapers. Feeling uncertain, she called her father, who claimed to be in San Francisco. “He is not arrested. He is just being interrogated,” said Frida, quoting her father.

Somebody had earlier reported that Salahuddin was not a member of the Governor’s group. But Misriawati denied this. She said that while her husband had left from Medan, the Governor took off from Jakarta. Salahuddin joined the delegation in Malaysia.

According to Trie Edi Mulyani, the first court session on the case has been held, resulting in Salahuddin being released, since he is now regarded as a witness. “The judge decided to release him,” said Trie. However, there is a condition to his release: he must appear in court when he is summoned. The next court session on the case is scheduled for January 24, 2008.

Aceh Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar admits he knows little about the case, including the million-dollar check. He thinks Salahudin may have been a victim of fraud on the Internet. “There are many fraud cases on the Internet,” he said.

Following the incident, Nazar says the Aceh government will impose stricter conditions to those wanting the join a government delegation. “This is to prevent such incidents from recurring,” said Nazar, who is also the former head of the Aceh Referendum Presidium Information Center.

Abdul Manan, Titis Setianingtyas, Adi Warsidi

Tempo Magazine, No. 04/VIII/Sept 25 - Oct 01, 2007

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