The 50-year-old businessman, invited to a Citibank office in Jakarta in late March, collapsed in a tiny room set aside by the U.S. bank for questioning of deadbeat debtors. He died shortly afterward — a casualty of a “harsh interrogation,” said Jakarta police spokesman Baharudin Djafar.
Citibank, Indonesia’s biggest foreign bank, said its internal investigation found no evidence of physical violence.
The tragedy — which came just days after police arrested a Citibank executive in a separate scandal over swindled clients — has tarnished the image of an American icon in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. It also cast a spotlight on a dark corner of international banking — the outsourcing of debt collection to unregulated agents in booming but unruly emerging markets.
The interview room where Octa met Citibank’s debt agents was sealed with yellow tape; police declared it a crime scene. Five people, none of them Citibank employees, have been arrested on suspicion of “group violence” and “mistreatment resulting in death.”
The Indonesian parliament and media have howled in protest at the arm’s-length use of outside debt collectors.
Tigor Siahaan, Citibank’s new boss in Indonesia, said the bank does not “condone, encourage or practice violence, or even harsh language.” Octa, he added, “could have died of natural causes.”
The dead man’s widow blames the bank. “He went into that room in good faith and good health — and ended up dead,” said Esi Ronaldi, who is suing Citibank for $350 million in damages.
At the family home in Tangerang, 20 miles from Jakarta, Ronaldi’s late husband looks down from a red-framed photo on the wall, near a sideboard decorated with a gift from Citibank, presented before Octa stopped paying his bills: a teddy bear with the bank’s logo.
Malinda Dee, the glamorous Citibank banker arrested shortly before Octa’s death, has become a tabloid sensation in the meantime. The two-decade Citibank employee worked as a senior relations manager, cultivating wealthy Indonesian clients from whom she is accused of stealing.
A public relations disaster
With one customer dead, others complaining that they have been robbed and photos of Dee plastered across the news media and on the Web, the giant U.S. bank is scrambling to contain a public relations debacle — and convince clients, local politicians and Indonesia’s central bank that it has just been unlucky.
Savaged in parliament and in the press, the American bank at first remained largely silent in the face of increasingly ghoulish allegations, but in May it sent Citigroup Vice Chairman Lewis B. Kaden to Jakarta to offer assurances that both scandals “are being treated with the utmost seriousness by our senior management.”