Singaporean breaks out of Batam detention centre

File photo of Batam Ferry Terminal at Batam Centre.
File photo of Batam Ferry Terminal at Batam Centre. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

A Singaporean has been on the run in Indonesia for the last six weeks after breaking out from an immigration detention centre in Batam.

The man, identified by the Indonesian authorities as Damar Bahadur Chettri, was first arrested on the island in the Riau archipelago on Dec 22.

He was caught trying to leave for Singapore by ferry using a fraudulent Indonesian passport, issued by the local authorities.

The passport carried his photo but was issued in the name of another person, said Mr Oky Derajat R. Mubarok, from the Batam immigration office, on Saturday.

Damar, who also goes by the name Sam Chettri, somehow managed to obtain the passport using fake Indonesian identification papers, said sources familiar with the case.

Mr Oky, who heads the immigration department's internal affairs division, said Damar, who was in custody for more than a month in Batam, escaped after breaking open the cell door at the detention centre on Jan 24. "We are still investigating," he said, when responding to queries on why Damar was using a fraudulent travel document.

The Indonesian police have since been called in to help track down the 55-year-old Singaporean. The Straits Times understands that, based on a name search, Damar is not on a wanted list in Singapore.

The ease with which Damar Bahadur Chettri managed to procure a fraudulent passport and break out from a detention centre has cast a spotlight on local immigration authorities.

News of his escape was leaked to the local media at the weekend, with the fugitive's whereabouts still unknown.

The ease with which Damar managed to procure a fraudulent passport and break out from a detention centre has cast a spotlight on local immigration authorities.

There have been concerns in recent years over how such passports could be acquired to allow criminals, corrupt officials and terrorists to leave the country without being detected. It appears that those in need of such passports can get hold of one, if they are prepared to pay high prices.

Local travel agents and brokers told The Straits Times that illegal passports can easily be bought in Batam and South Sumatra's Lampung province for about 15 million rupiah (S$1,585) each.

However, the world's most notorious place to procure fake travel documents is Thailand. Its key clientele are terrorists, human traffickers and other criminals.

In 2010, Thai authorities busted a racket involving two Pakistanis and a Thai woman that provided fake passports to extremist groups. On Feb 8, five Pakistanis were arrested in Bangkok for assisting a forgery ring ship counterfeit passports overseas for $3,200.

One of the most high-profile fugitives who travelled using a fraudulent Indonesian passport was Singaporean terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari, who was on the run after planning an attack on Changi Airport.

When he was arrested in 2003, he had in his possession, a genuine Indonesian passport, issued in Surabaya, but with a false identity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'S'porean breaks out of Batam detention centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe