JAKARTA -- An Indonesian investigative journalist said that Filipino geologist Michael de Guzman, who was involved in one of the biggest gold scams ever, is very likely still alive and enjoying his fortune.
Freelance writer Bondan Winarno published his findings on the Busang scam in a book entitled Bre-X: Sebungkah Emas di Kaki Langit, released in Jakarta last month. The book chronicles how de Guzman and his assistants at the Canadian company Bre-X Minerals Ltd tampered with gold samples in the jungles of Kalimantan and went on to cheat many mining consultants, governments and investors on both sides of the Pacific.
Winarno theorised that de Guzman had faked his own death, saying in an interview with The Nation and in a discussion with Indonesian journalists on Thursday that he had travelled to Canada, the United States, the Philippines and Busang in eastern Kalimantan in order to unearth evidence.
"It's very likely that de Guzman is still alive, but I don't know where," said Winarno, adding that his feeling was that de Guzman was most probably living somewhere like Hawaii, where his physical appearance would blend in with that of the native population. One of de Guzman's four wives and a colleague were quoted as saying that de Guzman had false teeth in his upper jaw, of which Indonesian and Filipino doctors who performed autopsies on a corpse said to be de Guzman's found no evidence.
"His family also refused to give his dental records to the Philippine authorities," said Winarno, adding that he was also suspicious when finding that the de Guzman grave in Manila had never been visited by family members two weeks after the burial.
Wife Sugini "Genie" Karnasih, who lives in a big house in Jakarta, also said that she believed her husband was still alive. Winarno also wrote that another Indonesian wife had even received a bank transfer following de Guzman's reported death.
Diplomat Nathaniel Imperial of the Philippine embassy in Jakarta admitted on Friday that a lot of speculation had accompanied de Guzman's reported death.
Journalists who packed Winarno's press event on Thursday said that if his theory was right, police in Canada, the Philippines and Indonesia should reopen their investigations and try and locate the Filipino geologist.
Goenawan Mohamad, a respected journalist who edits Indonesia's Tempo news weekly, spoke very highly of Winarno, saying that Winarno was a "decent and correct" writer.
It was widely reported two years ago that de Guzman had jumped from a helicopter on March 19, 1997, when flying from Samarinda, a provincial city in eastern Kalimantan, to the Busang site, around 300 kilometres northwest of Samarinda, leaving behind suicide notes which basically said he was committing suicide because he was unable to live with hepatitis B.
Indonesian police said that the pilot and engineer, the only two witnesses, had seen de Guzman write the letters and put them in a bag just before they felt a strong gust of wind nearby. They looked behind, they said, to find their passenger gone having jumped from a height of 250 metres. Winarno, himself an amateur parachutist, questioned the remains of the body, saying that he had seen the corpse of a friend whose parachute had failed to open from a height of 500 metres.
"My friend's remains didn't resemble a human being. There was just a pile of flesh and bones. Certainly [250 metres] is only around half that height, but I am certain the body would have suffered far more damage than I witnessed," Winarno said on Thursday.
Copyright 1999 The Nation Publishing Group
The Nation (Thailand)