On Thursday (13 March), Indonesian authorities have detained two Malaysians for allegedly trying to smuggle some 12,000 face masks back to their home country.
According to the police, the suspects, aged 44 and 42 respectively, were detained on suspicions of hoarding.
The duo were planning to leave for Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday (11 March) when officials at the international airport in Sumatra’s Medan city became suspicious and proceeded to search their bags, right before they were about to board a flight.
The suspects claimed they were planning to distribute the masks to children in neighbouring Malaysia to guard against Covid-19 infections.
The Indonesian police affirmed that the masks were subsequently confiscated and the suspects would be deported without pressing for any criminal charges.
Mr Tatan Dirsan Atmaja, a police spokesman said, “We didn’t find any criminal conduct after questioning them so they will be sent back.”
Earlier this month, the Indonesian police seized more than half a million face masks from a Jakarta-area warehouse after the country’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 sparked panic buying and sent prices roaring.
Since then, authorities have discovered 600,000 surgical masks during a raid at the warehouse in the satellite city of Tangerang, Indonesia.
The owners did not have permission to distribute the masks, stated the police.
“Mask prices have skyrocketed everywhere and there are shortages, most likely because hoarders are trying to make money at the public’s expense,” noted Jakarta police spokesman, Mr Yusri Yunus.
According to the police, those convicted of hoarding masks could face up to five years in jail and hefty fines.
“Those masks are useless,” said Mr Yunus, adding that “they won’t protect people who use them.”
The crackdown was ordered by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, as panicky citizens resorted to bulk buying and cleared store shelves for masks and hand sanitisers that sent prices skyrocketing.