Chris Barrett and Karuni Rompies, Singapore/Jakarta – An Indonesian police general has been charged with the murder of a junior officer at his house in a dramatic development in a high-profile case that threatens to erode trust in law enforcement in Southeast Asia's most populous nation.
Police in South Jakarta had initially said 27-year-old Brigadier Nopryansyah Yosua Hutabarat had died on July 8 in a shootout with another junior officer at the home of his boss – Inspector General Ferdy Sambo, the head of internal affairs at the National Police – after sexually harassing Sambo's wife.
But after Hutabarat's family claimed he had been tortured and his body was exhumed for a second autopsy, that narrative has been ripped up and replaced by a far more sinister version of events.
Hours after President Joko Widodo again weighed in on the episode urging a thorough probe to protect the reputation of the police, the country's top police officer said investigators now believe Sambo, 49, had ordered the killing of his bodyguard and driver and attempted to cover it up.
General Listyo Sigit Prabowo, the national police chief, told reporters that an investigation involving ballistic and forensic examination, CCTV footage and phone records had determined that Hutabarat had been shot at in the direction of Sambo.
"After the fatal shooting, [Sambo] fired [Hutabarat's] gun into the wall of his house in an attempt to simulate a shootout," Prabowo said.
Sambo has been charged with premeditated murder, an offence that carries the death penalty in Indonesia, as have two other men including another member of his protection crew.
A fourth man, junior officer Second Patrolman Richard Eliezer Lumiu, 24, who is accused of firing the fatal shots at Hutabarat on the instruction of Sambo, has been charged with murder.
The case, which has dominated headlines in Indonesia for weeks, took the dramatic turn last week after Lumiu told investigators that there had been no shootout.
Lumiu, who has the lowest rank in the police force, has applied for protection under the country's witness and victim protection program and Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD called on police to support that process "so that he is saved from torture, from poison or whatever" and "could reach court to provide testimony".
According to news reports in Indonesia, Hutabarat had been suspected of having an affair with Sambo's wife, Putri Candrawathi, for whom he also served as a driver and aide. But police said they were still investigating the motive behind the shooting.
Speaking at a press conference in Jakarta, police chief Prabowo said officers had tried to destroy evidence, including CCTV footage, after the slaying of Hutabarat, who was a trained sniper.
Thirty-one officers were now under investigation over alleged ethical breaches relating to the case, with 11 having already been stood down, police said.
In its editorial on Wednesday, the Jakarta Post described the alleged cover-up as "just the tip of the iceberg of the endemic corruption within the police force".
Widodo has on several occasions demanded transparency over the death of Hutabarat and did so again when approached by media on Tuesday while inspecting a development project in the province of Kalimantan.
"Since the beginning, I have said this: Investigate it thoroughly, don't hesitate, don't cover up anything, reveal the truth as it is," he said.
"Reveal the truth as it is. Don't let the public lose confidence in the police. It is the most important thing. The image of the police must be preserved."