Citibank Accused Of Killing A Man Over Unpaid Debts
Debt collectors are known for being aggressive, but collections at Citibank Indonesia may have taken that image a bit too far. Yesterday the Washington Post ran the story of 50-year old Irzen Octa who lost his life over an unpaid credit card.
Like many, Octa had fallen on hard times and was having difficulty settling the $5700 balance on his Citibank Platinum card. But one morning in March he was hopeful, and set out to the bank’s Jakarta offices to meet in the “interrogation room” and discuss repayment options. He left the house on his motorbike, telling his wife to wish him luck.
“I may be signing a new contract and can settle our debts,” he said.
Octa’s biggest fear behind the debt was losing their home. Little did he know that morning he would never return. Later that day, a friend called to alert Esi Ronaldi that her husband had been found dead.
“He was clearly not interviewed but tortured,” Tubagus Surya said in a phone interview, where he described finding Octa bruised and bleeding on the floor of the Citibank office.
According to the Post, the bank’s mob tactics began last October when five men arrived unannounced at their door, and slept overnight on their front porch hoping to collect. They followed up with persistent calling until Octa agreed to meet.
Apparently, police have given conflicting reports of the incident; initially stating Octa’s blood was found on the blinds of the camera-free interrogation room, and later that the “blood” was merely a stain. The medical examiner also offered two reports; one stating the cause of death as “asphyxiation” and a “strike from a blunt instrument,” the other blamed a brain hemorrhage. The law firm representing Octa’s widow had his corpse dug up to conduct a separate autopsy, which cites cause of death as “blunt violence,” although Indonesian police have rejected it.
Citibank does not accept responsibility for Octa’s death, claiming lack of evidence of violence after an internal investigation, as well as noting the fact that the five debt collectors arrested on suspicion of “group violence” and “mistreatment resulting in death” were outsourced and not Citibank employees. A slap in the face to Octa’s family, but also ignoring an important clause of debt collector contracts brought up by Indonesia’s central bank; they are ultimately still responsible for the actions of the debt collectors that they hire.
Adding insult to injury, Tigor Siahaan of Citibank Indonesia suggested that Octa “could have died of natural causes.” His wife disagrees.
“He went into that room in good faith and good health — and ended up dead,” she said, according to the Washington Post.
Ronaldi is suing Citibank for $350 million in damages for her husband’s untimely death. The bank has since written off his debt, offered a monthly stipend, life insurance, and to cover education costs for her two teenage daughters. She’s rejected the offer and is currently awaiting trial.
Citigroup Vice Chairman Lewis B. Kaden said in a statement, that the bank was “deeply saddened” by Octa’s “sudden and unexpected death” and is eager to “handle this very sad matter with genuine compassion. . . . If we have done anything to suggest otherwise, we sincerely apologize.”
We’re wondering if this is the first time outsourcing of unregulated collections has turned ugly overseas, or just the first we’ve heard of it.
In the words of Difi Johansyah, a senior official at the central bank, “The best thing to do is just pay.”