Neil Bantleman: Civil case against school thrown out in Jakarta court

An Indonesian court has thrown out a $125-million civil lawsuit against the Jakarta International School where now-jailed educator Neil Bantleman and Ferdinant Tjiong worked.

Family sees court decision as 'extremely positive news' for Bantleman and aide Tjiong

Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman sits inside a holding cell prior to the start of his trial in Jakarta in March. Bantleman and Indonesia teaching assistant Ferdinant Tjiong were found guilty of sexual abuse of students at a prestigious international school in the capital. (Dita Alangkara/Associated Press)

An Indonesian court has thrown out the civil case against the school where Neil Bantleman of Burlington, Ont. worked before he was jailed more than a year ago on suspicion of sexual assault.

The decision was "extremely positive" for Bantleman's brother, Guy Bantleman, who circulated news of the decision early Monday. But a reporter in Jakarta said the decision could leave room for a new version of the civil suit to be brought.

Bantleman and teacher's aide Ferdinant Tjiong have been jailed since July 2014 in a related case. They are serving 10-year sentences for sexual assault of students from the Jakarta Intercultural School. The school has 2,400 students who are mainly the children of international diplomats, the wealthy, or other foreigners living in Jakarta.

A Reuters article quoted a judge, Judge Haswandi, announcing the suit's rejection: "The lawsuit is not accepted because the charges are not clear and the evidence presented is not enough to prove wrongdoing on the part of the school."

And a New York Times report said the head of a three-judge panel "also said that the plaintiffs 'didn't give any clear detailed information about when and how' the sexual assaults occurred."

A lawyer for the school, Harry Ponto, told Reuters the decision on Monday could have an effect on the sentences.

"Hopefully this case can have a positive impact for our teachers who we believe are innocent," he said.

This civil suit had been brought by a mother of a child at the Jakarta Intercultural School who said her son had been molested by the two men. She was asking for $125 million. 

A reporter for the Jakarta Post, Indra Budiari, was in the courtroom for the verdict and told CBC News on Monday that "the lawyers of the mother seemed upset, refused to give any comment to the reporters after the trial and rushed to leave the courtroom."

But Budiari said the decision seemed far from clear-cut good news for those hoping for a release of Bantleman and Tjiong.

'I would not call this a victory'

Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman, right, walks with Indonesian teaching assistant, Ferdinant Tjiong prior to the start of their trial hearing at South Jakarta District Court in December 2014. (Tatan Syuflana/The Associated Press)
The judges seemed to indicate the suit was thrown out due to their opinion that the cleaners should have been named as co-defendants and had a chance in the proceedings to tell their side of the story, Budiari said. The plaintiff could launch a new suit naming them. 

"I would not call this a victory nor a defeat for JIS or Neil, Ferdy and the cleaners," Budiari said. "For me, the civil case is back to square one."

The family of the plaintiffs emailed a statement to the New York Times suggesting they plan to appeal.

Bantleman and Tjiong were found guilty of sexually assaulting a group of young boys at JIS — which they have denied. The verdict in that case came after a four-month trial that critics say was fraught with irregularities. Six janitors at the school were also charged with sexual assault involving allegations from the same boys. One died in custody, while the other five are serving prison sentences. 

Meanwhile, last month, OC Kaligis, the defence lawyer who represents the plaintiff in the civil suit against the school, was charged with bribery. Budiari previously said that as a result of those charges, Kaligis' previous cases are being reviewed by legal authorities and that review will include Bantleman's case. It will also include the related case that resulted in convictions against five school janitors for similar allegations.

With files from Jeff Green


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