“There must be something wrong inside Citibank,” said Difi Johansyah, a senior official at the central bank, which supervises banks but not their outsourced agents.
Citibank has said that it is “having discussions” with the central bank about the terms under which it hired debt collectors. Sihaan, Citibank’s Jakarta chief, said that the bank’s image had “taken a hit” but that the bank still managed to increase its client base; three months after the twin scandals broke, it was up 1 percent in Indonesia.
Citibank, a big loser in the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble, has pushed hard since the 2008 financial meltdown and a huge federal bailout to boost profits overseas, particularly in booming Asia.
Opening a new branch in the Indonesian capital last year, Shariq Mukhtar, Citibank’s then-boss in Jakarta, gushed about the “privileges and extraordinary experiences” offered to customers: “We want to be there for them every step of the way.”
But Citibank, like other big foreign banks, stepped aside when it came to getting customers such as Octa — who stopped paying his credit card bill three years ago — to cough up.
Noting that Indonesian debt collectors have a reputation for sometimes aggressive persistence, Johansyah, the central bank official, said: “The best thing to do is just pay.”
Octa’s widow said she first discovered that her husband had money problems when five men showed up uninvited at their Tangerang home one night in October and said they had come to get money. Unable to collect, they slept on a terrace outside the front door.
In the following months, debt collectors kept calling — and Octa’s debts kept rising because of hefty interest. At the end, his debt to Citibank stood at more than $11,000, including financial charges — twice the original amount — but the bank says it was willing to settle for much less. He owed others money, too, and told his family members that they might have to sell their house.
“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.
In the afternoon, a friend of her husband, Tubagus Surya, telephoned from a Citibank office in south Jakarta and told Ronaldi that her husband had “gone.” Surya, who arrived at the Citibank office soon after his friend collapsed, said in a telephone interview that he found Octa sprawled on the floor with his nose bleeding and bruises on his head and abdomen.
“He was clearly not interviewed but tortured,” said the friend, who had worked closely with Octa at the National Unity Party, a small political party that the dead businessman had headed.
Citibank, denying any use of physical force, noted that its interview room, on the fifth floor of an office tower, is off a busy corridor and that any violence would probably have been visible through a narrow glass panel on the door and reported.
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. The interview room has no cameras.
Police have given conflicting accounts of the incident, saying both that Octa’s blood had been found on blinds in the Citibank office and that the “blood” was just a stain. Djafar, the police spokesman, said investigators think debt collectors wanted “to frighten and intimidate” Octa but not kill him.
A doctor who examined Octa’s corpse the day after he died wrote two reports: One said he had suffered “asphyxiation” and a “strike from a blunt instrument”; the other said that he’d had a brain hemorrhage.
To try to buttress its assertions that Citibank and its debt collectors are responsible, a law firm working for the widow had Octa’s body dug up from a cemetery on the outskirts of Jakarta in April. An eminent forensic doctor who examined the decomposing body reported multiple bruises and blamed “blunt violence.” Police rejected this freelance autopsy.
The central bank, meanwhile, has barred Citibank from issuing new credit cards for two years and from using outside collection agents during that period.
Citibank has brought all its debt collection in-house and written off its dead client’s debts. It also offered Octa’s family a monthly stipend, life insurance for his widow and a promise to cover his two daughters’ education. The family, pushing for a bigger payout in court, rejected the offer.