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Citigroup Accused in Death of Customer

This article was written by in Debt Reduction. 8 comments.

Three months ago, a healthy 49-year-old business man walked into a Citibank office in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss the matter of a $5,500 debt on his Citi Platinum credit card. The events that followed are unclear, but four hours later, the man left Citi offices in a wheelchair. Citi cars drove him to a nearby hospital where he was announced dead.

Lawyers for the man’s widow allege that debt collectors physically harassed him in the office, pursuing a debt repayment of the equivalent of $12,000 including interest. He received a beating that eventually led to his death. The widow is suing Citi for $348 million. Citi’s lawyers contend that while there was some intimidation involved, the man died of unrelated causes.

The concept of debt in the developed world is not only mainstream, it’s interwoven in the fabric of the economy. Punishment for debt or consequences for owing money to another party are not severe. Debtors don’t go to jail, but in some circumstances, any income they generate can be transferred directly to creditors — essentially enabling indentured servitude (or worse, slavery). In Indonesia, like the United States, it is apparently customary for creditors to hire debt collectors to intimidate debtors, but unlike the United States, this intimidation can be severe. In this country, harassing phone calls, even to relatives and friends, is the practice of the seediest corporate-style debt collectors. Physical harassment for debt obligations is not the norm here, unless one deals with shady illegal practices.

A business moving into another region of the world needs to be aware of the local customs and the requirements for doing business. In some countries, it may be hard to build a business without a special application fee to the government, call it what you will. Business practices and expectations differ around the world. The promise of financial gain from having a presence in a developing nation like Indonesia is a strong incentive to enter the country for business, and for that company to succeed, it must adopt local customs and practices. Where those practices conflict with a code of ethics established for operation domestically, it can be tricky for a company to find the right balance that allows them to succeed in country while maintaining a moral standing.

Having a customer die in your office, particularly during an admitted session of intimidation, whether due to the intimidation or not, could be a pesky public relations problem. It sounds like Citi may not be to blame directly for this death, but a corporation would not permit this type of intimidation in the United States.

Bloomberg, Huffington Post

Published or updated July 3, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Bobka

Indonesia is a Muslim majority country, and I have read that there are certain practices within that religion that discourage borrowing from banks and others. Perhaps this came into play in this incident.

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avatar 2 wylerassociate

a sad story but i can’t say i’m surprised.

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avatar 3 Donna Freedman

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country (86.1%). But would people who don’t believe in borrowing be working for a credit-card company?
What’s more likely, I think, is that the security guards got a little carried away with their “intimidation.” Even a single blow, unfortunately placed, can lead to serious injury or death.
Time for Citibank to do some serious customer-service training. And some serious spinning.

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avatar 4 shellye

“Citi’s lawyers contend that while there was some intimidation involved…” – seriously? Sounds like “Citi’s got some ‘splainin to do. And maybe hire some better-trained debt collectors.

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avatar 5 skylog

exactly, that is a rather vague statement which certainly needs some further examination. this whole story is just shocking, regardless the ending.

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avatar 6 qixx

Yet another reason not to do business with Citi. Not sure how the widow came up with $348 million but i hope the courts award her more than that.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Ouch! When investment banks were rolling over for Enron’s business at least one executive broached the subject of “Reputational Risk” – In their case, aiding and abetting accounting fraud. You can bet your bottom dollar Citi has a host of folks working on crisis teams with this in mind. No company would formally document a policy of intimidation and battery in debt collection, but the failure to prevent it could be considered culpable. I’m certain the trans-pacific lines of communication are filled with the command to settle settle settle.

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avatar 8 lynn

Holy debt collectors, Batman! Citi is not a bank I would ever do business with. Now I know why.

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