Wed, 24 Mar 1999

Police arrest 13 for involvement in shoplifting

JAKARTA (JP): City police arrested 13 people, including seven women, late Monday for alleged involvement in a shoplifting ring which concentrated on major supermarkets in the capital, a senior police officer said.

The officer, who asked not to be identified, said on Tuesday the arrests were made at two separate locations.

"Seven of them were arrested when they were having dinner in a Padang restaurant in Taman Sari district, West Jakarta, while the six others were apprehended at their mastermind's house in the area," he said.

One of the suspects, Roy, 24, said on Tuesday he began working with the group two months ago because it was difficult to find a reasonable paying job.

"I received Rp 50,000 (US$5.8) for each operation," said Roy, a "supervisor" for the thefts.

Four or five people were involved in each theft. Apart from the shoplifters, there was a supervisor to monitor the surroundings and a driver of the getaway car.

The women were assigned to steal the goods because they were considered shrewder and more resourceful, Roy said. He did not know how much the women were paid.

Roy did not explain how the shoplifters evaded electronic detectors on merchandise or security guards.

"Recently, we concentrated on two Continent outlets in Pluit (North Jakarta) and in Kuningan (South Jakarta)," Roy said, referring to the foreign hypermarket.

Another suspect, Tatik, 40, formerly worked in a garment factory in North Jakarta. "I had to join this group," she replied when reporters asked why she became involved in shoplifting.

Other female suspects, aged from 17 years to 25 years, covered their faces with their hands, wept and refused comment when police showed them to reporters at police headquarters.

Police said the arrests were made following a tip-off from Taman Sari residents who were suspicious of the sale of goods from the house, which was arranged like a minimarket.

Neighbors claimed people would visit the home throughout the day and night to buy goods.

The house belonged to one of the detained suspects, identified as Teng Syan.

After conducting intensive surveillance, police concluded the supplies were obtained from shoplifting in major stores.

"The sad thing is that the activities were organized by Teng Syan himself," the police officer said.

Teng Syan and his wife Michelle have undergone intensive questioning. They are believed to have been the organizers of the group, which mostly recruited laid-off workers.

The shoplifters said they were provided with two Kijang vans and between Rp 50,000 and Rp 100,000 to "shop". They were paid after returning with shoplifted goods.

Teng Syan reportedly disclosed to police he had run his in- home store for more than five years, receiving an average Rp 10 million per day.

"Teng Syan accepted anything submitted by the shoplifters," the officer said.

Inside Teng Syan's modest two-story house -- located in a narrow alley in rundown Taman Sari I -- goods ranged from rubber sandals to expensive liquor.

Teng Syan and Michele were helped by three housemaids who also served as shop assistants. They said they did not know the origin of the merchandise.

Police detectives who checked the store planned to seal the house as evidence. They have assigned two armed officers to safeguard the merchandise.

"We're afraid neighboring people will flock here and loot the place if they know the boss of the shoplifters has been arrested," an officer said. (emf)