Central Java Police arrested on Tuesday three residents of Semarang for alleged price gouging in the wake of the buying frenzy that erupted on Monday, when the country confirmed its first cases of COVID-19.
The three had reportedly been caught stockpiling face masks and hand sanitizers and reselling them at almost nine times the original price.
Central Java Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Iskandar F. Sutisna said on Tuesday that the police had arrested the three suspects – identified only as A, 45; M, 25; and AU, 45 – who had been selling the marked-up products on Facebook, where they had also posted their contact information.
“We have confiscated 4,000 face masks as evidence, as well as hand sanitizers. One box of masks originally costs from Rp 30,000 (US$2.12) to Rp 40,000, but they were selling [one] for Rp 275,000,” Iskandar said.
“People were rushing to look for face masks after the coronavirus [announcement] and they panicked when they couldn't find it at [stores], so they resorted to buying them from the suspects,” he added.
The suspects have been charged under Article 107 of Law No. 7/2014 on Trade, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison sentence and a Rp 50 billion fine. They are also being charged with violating the 1999 Consumer Protection Law.
Meanwhile, Central Java Police general crimes head Sr. Comr. Budhi Haryanto explained that the police had tracked down the suspects through a cyber investigation based on reports from the public.
He said several areas in Central Java, including areas along the North Coast (Pantura) Highway as well as the regencies of Brebes and Kendal, which had already run out of face masks and hand sanitizers.
“Apparently, they have [sold out] because the hoarders bought them all,” Budhi said.
“We already have the names of more than five other face mask hoarders,” he added, indicating that investigations were ongoing in other price gouging cases.
Budhi warned the general public to refrain from buying face masks in bulk with the intent to resell them at markup prices.
“Please have more sympathy for the public. We will keep looking for hoarders because the President has instructed us to be strict toward them,” he cautioned.
A buying frenzy gripped people all over the country on Monday afternoon following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo's announcement of the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in country. Stores reported that customers were buying up items ranging from instant noodles to face masks and antiseptic wipes.
Designated Case 1 and Case 2, Indonesia's first confirmed cases are a mother and daughter currently being treated at the Sulianti Saroso Infectious Diseases Hospital in North Jakarta. (dpk)