Chinese Drug Trafficker on Death Row Escapes Lawful Custody by Tunnelling Through Sewers to Road Outside

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.


It’s the kind of plot you’d only ever see play out in a movie, except of course this was real life – in mid-September 2020, a man facing the death sentence in Indonesia for drug trafficking managed to escape from jail by tunnelling through the sewage system, and now he is on the loose.

On 14 September, Chinese man, Cai Changpan, who was imprisoned at a jail in Java’s Tangerang area for smuggling methamphetamine, ploughed a hole from his cell into waste pipes that ultimately led to a road where he managed to flee.

However, the 37-year-old’s absence was not noticed by authorities until four days after he escaped on 18 September, according to local media.

The Tangerang police were left to interrogate four prison staff over the incident along with one civilian, leading to an investigation that is still underway with the man unable to be found.

It is believed the prisoner utilised equipment from a construction project in the prison kitchen to burrow himself out of the prison.

“This is an extreme case that cannot be generalised and is not representative of Indonesia’s prison system,” criminologist from Indonesia’s ombudsman office, Adrianus Meliala, said.

“So it will be properly investigated, including if there are prison wardens involved, or anything else.”


Mr Changpan Had Been Plotting His Prison Escape for Five to Six Months in Advance

It has been reported that according to a cell mate, Mr Changpan had plotted his breakout from the prison for five to six months beforehand.

However, prison officials did not pick up on the convicted drug trafficker’s activities in the months it took for him to make his move towards freedom.

Addressing the escape, Indonesia Directorate General of Prisons spokeswoman, Rika Aprianti, said Mr Changpan, who also goes by the name Cai Ji Fan, had timed his getaway to concur with the changing of the guards.

Now, the man is on Indonesia’s most wanted list.

In 2017, Mr Changpan was sentenced to death for trafficking 135kg of crystal meth to Indonesia.

Police discovered 70kg of it hidden in chicken coop cleaner equipment.


Not the First Time Mr Changpan Had Managed to Escape from Prison

In an interesting twist of events, it turns out this is not the first time Mr Changpan has broken out of prison.

In 2017, the drug trafficker had also previously broken out of a Jakarta police detention centre by breaking a hole in a bathroom wall using an iron rod.

Along with other prisoners, he went on to scale a 2.5m wall, but was recaptured in West Java three days later.

“This is the second time he escaped,” Tangerang police’s chief, Sugeng Hariyanto, said, adding the offender had also succeeded in getting out of the National Police Criminal Investigation Department cells in Jakarta while on remand.

According to officials, in Mr Changpan’s latest escape, he had invited his cellmate to join him, however the man had declined.

Authorities said they recovered a crowbar, chisel, screwdriver and other tools used to dig the hole.

Although rare when it comes to foreigners, prisonbreaks are common in Indonesia, particularly in the case of prisons that are overcrowded and inadequately staffed.

In 2018, some 90 inmates managed to escape a prison in Banda Aceh after they tore down a fence in the middle of a prayer gathering.

Meanwhile, in the previous year, more than 400 inmates broke out of an overcrowded prison in Riau province, while also in 2017, four foreigners managed to burrow their way to freedom from Bali’s infamous Kerobokan jail.

The Law on Escaping Lawful Custody

Escaping lawful custody is a crime punishable with up to 10-years behind bars if you escape or attempt to escape from lawful custody, or if having been temporarily released from lawful custody, you fail to return to lawful custody at the end of the time for which you’ve been released, pursuant to section 310D Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

Have a question on this topic of law? Our criminal lawyers in Sydney specialise in criminal law. Call our friendly staff to arrange a free initial consult today.

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