Bootleg booze battle: Indonesian police in very public clampdown as death toll tops 100
From a raft of press conferences in different districts, to bottles and bottles of booze being crushed in emphatic fashion, there is a conscious effort to show that something is being done by the authorities to tackle the problem
Recently, in Tangerang, Jakarta, a bright yellow steamroller smashed a ‘carpet’ of thousands of bottles while, simultaneously, raids were being conducted on the premises of homebrew suspects.
In various districts of the capital as well as other parts of the Muslim-majority country, graphic press conferences and updates have been held by police on the issue.
With seven handcuffed suspects in the background, National Deputy Police Chief Muhammad Syafruddin came out to say that the deaths have been concentrated in West Java and Jakarta but there have also been cases in South Kalimantan and other regions.
At the conference, police also displayed large volumes of confiscated alcohol. Some were contained in small transparent plastic bags that they are sold in, while some were in nicely-labelled bottles claiming to be whiskey or wine.
Syafruddin called for a “scorched earth campaign” to eradicate completely the production of illegal alcohol.
“I have given them a target to finish this problem this month,” said Syafruddin.
“There will be zero bootleg liquor in Indonesia. There will be no more bootleg liquor this Ramadhan.”
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will begin this year on May 15.
There had been 31 deaths in four days in Greater Jakarta at the beginning of April, followed by an even greater ‘boom’ in Java.
Many of the survivors have described having nausea, blurry vision and loss of consciousness.
Revelations in West Java
In Bandung, West Java Police Chief Irjen Pol. Agung Budi Maryoto held a press conference to disclose that a factory producing oplosan (bootleg liquor), has been found in Cicalengka, Bandung regency, West Java. He said they have caught and are interrogating two suspects in the case which claimed multiple lives in West Java.
“We have also put seven people, who acted as distributors of the beverages, on our most wanted list [DPO],” he said.
At the suspect’s home, police found alcoholic drink ready for circulation. The quantity was about 224 boxes or 5,376 units of 600ml bottles.
They said they also found the raw materials to make the drink, such as 115 boxes mineral water, 39 boxes or 468 small bottles of dye, 23 jerry cans or 25L of alcohol, and 66 boxes of Kuku Bima energy powder.
According to the police chief, the average production per day of the set-up was 10 boxes or 240 bottles, sold for about Rp 270,000 (about US$20) per box.
Based on reports the chief received from the hospital, the casualties from the Bandung regency amounted to 145 people, with 41 deaths so far.
Furthermore, in Cicalengka hospital, 103 people were treated while 31 died, in Majalaya hospital 60 people were treated and three died, and in AMC Cileunyi Hospital 16 victims were treated and seven died.
This brings the total death toll in West Java alone to 82 and possibly still rising.
West Java recently declared a state of emergency in the wake of the epidemic.
In Jakarta and the neighbouring province, Reuters reports said police found thousands of bottles and plastic bags containing bootleg brew, which was sold for around 20,000 rupiah (about US$1.45) per bag.
Laboratory tests revealed it contained pure alcohol mixed with herbal beverages and high-caffeine energy drinks. A police official also said that at least one suspect included mosquito repellent in his concoction.
State of the issue
While bootleg booze is usually known to be sold under the table by street vendors, who often make the toxic concoction themselves, police have said they believe there are more ‘big producers and distributors’ behind the sale of bootleg liquor, resulting in the greater numbers in recent deaths.
National police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said those found guilty of supplying such beverages they knew to be dangerous could face a maximum life sentence.
While Indonesia is a country of great diversity, nearly 90% of its population profess to be Muslim.
In 2015, a further hike on import tariffs on wines and spirits by the Indonesian government nearly doubled the price of alcohol.
The sale of alcohol was also banned across most convenience stores and small shops, though still remains available in most hotels, bars and supermarkets.
This has resulted in Indonesians of lower economic status tending to turn to cheap yet potentially lethal homebrew concoctions.
Recently, Jakarta police announced they have arrested the main suspect of the West Java oplosan operation, Samsudin Simbolon.
He is set to face life in prison if convicted.