Higgins tells the story of 50-year-old Indonesian businessman Irzen Octa, who owed $5,700 on his Citibank credit card and had a fear familiar to millions of Americans in debt: of losing his home.
To try to settle that debt, Octa accepted an invitation to be questioned at a Citibank office in Jakarta. Octa was sent to see outsourced debt collectors in an interrogation room set aside for deadbeat debtors with no cameras. Hours later, he was dead.
Higgins chronicles what happened before he left for the Citibank office:
“Wish me luck,” he apparently told his wife before leaving home March 28. “I may be signing a new contract and can settle our debts.” He set off about 6 a.m. on his motorcycle, driving first to a school to drop off his younger daughter and then heading to Jakarta. He had a “very happy face,” his widow recalled.
That afternoon, a friend of Octa’s found him sprawled on the floor at the Citibank office with his nose bleeding and bruises on his head and abdomen.
“He was clearly not interviewed but tortured,” said the friend.
Citibank denies using physical force and insists the violence would have been visible through a narrow glass panel on the door of the office. While the interview room has no cameras to confirm or deny this, the wider office does:
Security cameras filmed Octa entering the room in the late morning and exiting in a wheelchair, apparently unconscious or dead, more than two hours later.
After the incident, police and doctors gave conflicting accounts of what might have happened. Police differed over whether Octa’s blood was found on the blinds in the Citibank office or if the “blood” was just a stain. Doctors differed over whether he had suffered “asphyxiation” and a “strike from a blunt instrument” or had died of a brain hemorrhage.
In response to Octa’s death, the country’s central bank has barred Citibank from issuing new credit cards for two years and from using outside debt collectors during that period.
Octa’s widow Esi Ronaldi and two teenage daughters have rejected Citibank’s offer for a monthly stipend, life insurance for Ronaldi and a promise to cover the two daughters’ education.
But in the end, Octa’s family got to keep their ramshackle two-story house.
Read Higgins’ full story here.