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Authors: Kathryn Bonella

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BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
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This was Iwan’s second stint in Hotel K. His first was in 1996 when he and his Dutch wife were caught at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport with 20,781 ecstasy tablets worth one and a half billion rupiah ($200,000) hidden in a loudspeaker box.

The suspects, Iwan Thalib and a woman he says is his wife, Jolita, were arrested upon arriving at Ngurah Rai Airport from Amsterdam on Friday. A police source said that the authorities have long suspected the two. It is believed that Iwan opened a furniture and silver souvenir shop as a cover. The police said they believe Iwan is one of the island’s major ecstasy dealers. The police source also said that a police officer, who was suspected of cooperating with Iwan and seen waiting for him at the airport, disappeared as soon as he saw Iwan was in trouble

Jakarta Post
, 12 June 1996

Iwan was sentenced to only fourteen months in jail the first time, barely interrupting his drug business. After his release, the charismatic, pony-tailed drug dealer, who had once acted in a couple of movies, started pressing ecstasy tablets in his two-room apartment above his high-end electrical shop in Bali’s Seminyak – an exclusive beach area populated with five-star hotels, villas and rich expatriates. Iwan lived upstairs in the drug den, drove around in the latest BMW and supplied all the clubs with ecstasy pills.

He was well known to the Bali police, who for a backhander mostly let him fly under the radar to get on with business, although a few always had him in their sights for an extra stripe on their uniform. He had evaded arrest a couple of times. Police had stopped two drug couriers with a kilogram of
(ice) hidden in the BMW they were driving. It turned out to be Iwan’s car and, they claimed, Iwan’s drugs, but he went untouched. Police also tried to arrest him in a Kuta nightclub after getting a tip-off that he had illegal drugs on him. But he was empty-handed when they nabbed him. Iwan’s elusiveness and the police’s inability to make a case against him resulted in several Bali police being suspected of taking gifts from him (even a house and a car), being guests at his parties and colluding with him. He’d been on the police’s most wanted list for years. Late one night, they finally got him.

Police patiently waited outside Iwan’s Seminyak shop, hiding in bushes or inside and behind parked cars, avoiding the security camera perched above the shop’s front door. They were armed and ready to strike. As Iwan walked down his stairs at about 2 am, he suspected nothing. He was on his way to see a friend in hospital after late-night surgery. He casually stepped out of his front door and
. His world lit up. Bright lights hit him in the face as police turned on their car headlights. Blinded momentarily, he didn’t see police jumping out from the shadows and surrounding him with guns. But he heard their shouts. ‘It’s him, it’s him’, before they called out to him, ‘We want to go upstairs and search your premises’. Iwan simply nodded and put his hands in the air. He knew one day this would happen. He also knew that upstairs he had enough stuff to put him in front of a firing squad. He kept his cool. Without evidence, police weren’t allowed inside.

But when a police officer walked across and searched him, he hit pay dirt. Iwan had eight grams of
in the pocket of his shirt. It was the green light that police needed to go inside. It was crazy for Iwan to carry drugs outside his drug den, but he had become blasé after years of police tip-offs and immunity. Twenty police officers followed him up the stairs to his den, two or three pointing guns at his lower spine. Iwan stayed cool. Once upstairs, he walked across to his fridge and pulled out a few beers to offer to the police. They declined. He snapped one open for himself anyway and sat down on the floor. Several of the officers joined him on the ground, amicably talking about the latest football scores. In the next room, officers ransacked his den.

He’s a very cool guy, very Al Pacino. I arrived a couple of minutes after they took him upstairs. They were already chatting with each other, sitting in a circle on the floor. I was there with three other journalists. They had already taken several drugs from the next room and put [them] in the centre of this circle. There were several piles of ecstasy tablets. Iwan just kept sitting there on the floor smiling

– Journalist Wayan Juniartha of the
Jakarta Post

Despite his casual attitude, Iwan had a lot to be stressed about. Police searched for three hours, regularly flashing smug smiles at each other as they uncovered a small-scale ecstasy factory. By the end of the night they had found 80,000 ecstasy tablets, six hundred grams of cocaine, several kilograms of powders, one kilogram of heroin, and five pill-pressing and stamping machines. They also discovered fourteen .22 calibre bullets, a pistol and an active hand grenade; basic protection for a drug dealer.

‘The arrest was really good news for us because he had been the most wanted criminal for years in Bali,’ a high ranking narcotics detective said. ‘We have been trying to capture him for years, but he was too smart and too elusive. We believe that he is one of the four biggest drug dealers in Bali, the ones with extensive networks and important connections,’ he said

Jakarta Post
, March 2002

At 5 am police finished the raid. They handcuffed Iwan and drove him to the Denpasar police cells, where he was put under tight security. Now he had to start a costly fight for his life. Ironically, Iwan’s long-standing tacit immunity had been wiped at a time when he’d been considering turning legit and moving into the booming Bali villa-building business. But his illegally made wealth would now be needed to pay the courts to let him live.

Cash flew around wildly. The payments were funnelled through his lawyer to grease the many outstretched palms in the system that needed to be paid. One payment slipped to police was to slash the number of ecstasy pills they would report they’d found. Another was to botch a court demonstration of Iwan’s pill presser, so the pills pressed in front of the judges looked nothing like the 80,000 confiscated pills. This exonerated Iwan from a serious drugs-manufacturing charge, making it easier for the judges to lighten his sentence without showing overt favouritism and so red-flagging their deals.

‘Yes! Yes!’ Iwan cried out, leaping off the plastic chair when the judges read out his sentence of thirteen years for drug possession. Death had been a real possibility; the deals had saved him. But his lawyer quickly yanked him back down in his seat, telling him to be quiet. Indiscretion was dangerous. Everyone was watching their back. They all had dirty hands and it was unwise to draw attention to the sentence. If there was suspicion that the judiciary had been compromised, the prosecutors could still appeal for death.

In his verdict [the judge] stressed that the 48-year-old defendant was not guilty of drug distribution or manufacturing, which were more serious offences that carried heavier sentences

Jakarta Post
, March 2001

In a separate case, Iwan – dubbed ‘Godfather’ by the press – was sentenced to a further three years for the weapons.

With his cases finally over, Iwan threw himself into new legitimate and old illicit businesses inside Hotel K. He converted a building near the tennis court, previously used by an inmate as a printing factory, into a furniture workshop. He invested $US50,000 of his own money in buying machinery and he paid forty-two prisoners small weekly salaries to work in the factory. It was a win-win situation. Even those with little skill could put their long and boring jail hours to use by endlessly polishing a table leg, ensuring that Iwan’s workshop was soon turning out the finest legs in furniture and attracting clients from as far as Spain and the United States.

Iwan’s wealthy and smartly dressed clients were welcomed through Hotel K’s front doors like official jail guests. They were escorted down the paths past the many staring faces of the curious prisoners who were usually loitering in the yard or sitting around drinking beers and smoking dope. Anyone new entering Hotel K, especially dapper-looking business-people, provoked interest and broke the monotony. But not all Iwan’s clients were so well-heeled. Some tended to look as scruffy as the inmates in jeans and T-shirts and appeared more suited to sitting on a concrete floor than on Iwan’s expensive designer chairs. When these clients walked into Iwan’s workshop, furniture shopping was the last thing on their minds.

Behind the front lines of noisy machines and flying sawdust, prisoners were quietly pressing and packing ecstasy pills. It was the ideal set-up. Iwan’s drug clients could breeze in and out without fear of being searched. Police were not allowed inside Hotel K unless they got a warrant, which meant Iwan would get ample warning from the guards on his payroll to hide the drugs. Furniture-moving trucks freely drove in and out of the jail’s service gate; superficial random searches always failed to uncover the tens of thousands of ecstasy pills neatly packed inside his high-end speakers.

On the street outside, Iwan had also set up a furniture showroom among a row of shanty-style shops that mostly sold cheap mobile phones and cans of Coke. Iwan did deals with his high and low-end clients at the showroom, using an intercom system to talk through the jail walls. Under the guise of going to his showroom, the business magnate easily slipped in and out of Hotel K, with the guards or
prisoners working as doormen – standing ready to swing open the wooden doors whenever Iwan walked out and disappeared for the day or night. As part of his deal to run the furniture business, Iwan was issued with an official piece of paper giving him a licence to roam freely. He carried it in his pocket in case he was stopped by the police.

Several people, including several police officers, suspected his workshop is just a front for his drug business inside the prison

–Journalist Wayan Juniartha of the
Jakarta Post

Being the jail’s furniture tycoon had many perks. Twice a year he got generous chunks of time slashed off his sixteen-year sentence, as the prison system recognised his enterprising efforts to set up a vocational program in Hotel K. His illicit business was given a simple nod and a sly wink by the jail boss, who took fifty per cent of the cash earnings from the furniture business and had his pockets regularly filled with wads of drug money.

Iwan’s largesse ensured the jail doors swung open freely to his family. His Dutch wife, Jolita, who shared a house behind the jail with their kids, two maids, a gardener and a driver, wandered through Hotel K daily, wearing her trademark slash of bright red lipstick. She knew the jail well after doing her own short stint for a drug possession charge. During her court case she was released from Hotel K on two hundred million rupiah ($40,000) bail and put under ‘city arrest’ before being acquitted four months later. But Hotel K had now virtually become an extension of her own backyard. Life as a jail wife wasn’t easy. She couldn’t have failed to realise her husband fooled around; his pony-tailed good looks, charisma, power and money were a heady aphrodisiac for lonely, lusty female prisoners – who were always keen to fill the long boring and empty hours of jail life, in any way they could.


My heart is crying baby. If I was in jail in fucking New York . . . but I’m in jail in Bali. I know that five minutes outside the front door I had the ocean
. ..

For a surfer, it makes it worse that you are in Bali and the waves are very good right outside your front door. And you’re in jail. I’m two minutes from my own restaurant, from my little swimming pool. From my friends, five minutes from Ku De Ta restaurant and I’m locked inside. I feel like I’m buried alive

The crazy thing is that here in Bali we party every day, surf, eat, take a pill, go dancing. Outside the Kerobokan walls, it’s Bali. If you go through that wall, it’s hell; locked in a small room everyday from seven at night until eight in the morning, thirteen hours, tiny fucking room. Not a hot shower. You struggle to eat every day … the most difficult thing in jail in this country is that you have to struggle every day for food. You don’t eat the food they give you. I wouldn’t feed my dog with it. Every day is a struggle

– Ruggiero, Brazilian inmate

Brazilian inmate Ruggiero’s soul was drying up. He had to get out of Hotel K and for weeks now he’d been working on a crafty escape plan. Each night in his cell he’d been loudly strumming his guitar and singing at the top of his lungs ‘I know it’s only rock’n’roll but I like it’, over and over, like a maniac. He sang for hours every night; prisoners in other cells thought he was just a crazy Brazilian. But his raucous singing was deliberate. It was to mask the noise of his Italian cellmate, Ferrari, sawing through the eight steel bars on their cell window.

Since the moment of his arrest, the Brazilian civil engineer and surfer had only one focus – to get his life back. First he’d tried to pay his way to freedom. But when that failed, escape became his new obsession. He wasn’t rash about it; he didn’t want to fail. He was working it step by step, like an engineering job, which, in a way, it was. Getting to the point of sawing the bars took weeks of preparation. Step one had been to empty his cell of six local prisoners who couldn’t be trusted to keep the plan quiet. It wasn’t hard for the hot-blooded Latino to scare the hell out of them by acting like a crazed lunatic, screaming, bashing the walls and threatening to kill them all. He kept this up every night until all six asked to move cells.

I pretended to be a madman. I eventually got all six so shit scared of me that they left

– Ruggiero

Next, he had to get the blade inside. Not too difficult, though the first attempt failed. Ruggiero had paid a friend to bring it to the jail, but he was busted when he rode up on his motorbike and handed it in a plastic bag to a Balinese inmate sweeping out the front. Drug transactions were routinely done in this way. But this day, a guard dozing on a wooden bench out the front saw it. He knew if he nabbed something illegal, it would mean a cash sling. So when he found out the blade was for a wealthy westerner, he confiscated it and went to talk to the Brazilian. For two million rupiah ($270) he agreed not to report it, but he still refused to let it inside. It was only a small setback for Ruggiero, as a few days later the local inmate simply used a more covert tactic, smuggling it in inside a papaya.

BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
4.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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