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Sex, murder, fraud: sham Indonesian cults in the spotlight after scandals

South China Morning Post - January 31, 2017

Desperate and despondent after losing an Indonesian local election, Abdul Junaidi was the perfect prey for a charismatic cult leader promising great wealth and political success.

Lured in with assurances that he would see his money multiply, the sugar cane farmer handed over 200 million rupiah ($15,000) to the sect.

But his cash disappeared, his political career stalled, and the leader of the group was arrested, accused of murdering one of Junaidi's friends for threatening to unmask him.

"His promise was very tempting – that if I ran at elections, then I would win," the 50-year-old sugar cane farmer said.

The case is the latest example of a shadowy sect playing on the widespread belief of the supernatural in Indonesia to allegedly swindle people.

Cult-like groups have long existed across the vast Indonesian archipelago, which is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups and where belief in local spirits and black magic are often fused with the dominant religion of Islam.

Belief in the supernatural is common across Asia. From China to Thailand, politicians often turn to soothsayers for advice. 'Witch' killings haunt India's remote villages where crop damage, loss of animal life or a personal setback can trigger occult mania

But in recent times in Indonesia, the deep-rooted belief in the occult has taken a dark turn with several cases of sham cult leaders facing allegations ranging from murder to fraud and sexual assault.

The most high-profile has been the one that embroiled Junaidi, who was among thousands persuaded to join a cult led by Taat Pribadi, who gave himself the Indonesian royal title "Dimas Kanjeng".

From former lawmakers to army generals and police officers, Pribadi managed to attract a huge and influential following to his cult in Probolinggo on Indonesia's main island of Java, with members living in his palatial residence and nearby buildings.

He persuaded people to join the group with claims that he could bring them success – in Junaidi's case by helping him win an election to head a small district on Java – and multiply money they gave him in an elaborate, supernatural ritual.

The case attracted huge attention when videos went viral of Pribadi dressed in flowing white robes sitting on a chair and performing the ritual that ended with him producing fistfuls of money and throwing it onto the floor.

Source: http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2066798/sex-murder-fraud-sham-indonesian-cults-spotlight-after