IAIN MARLOW

Neil Bantleman walked into an Indonesian detention centre after being accused in a sensational child rape case. That, as he puts it, “is not the best reputation.”

His cellblock leaders advised him to stay in his cell for the first few weeks, but eventually, after conversations with other inmates, he said they started to believe his version of events.

“It’s quite corrupt here,” he told me when I visited him in Jakarta. “People pay off the police. And if you don’t pay money, you spend a lot of time in jail.”

The quiet, 45-year-old Canadian was working as a vice-principal at the prestigious Jakarta International School when he was detained by Indonesian police on shocking allegations that there was effectively a pedophile ring among top administrators.

The more one learns about this case, the stranger it seems. The principal told me he took seriously an initial meeting with a father concerned sexual abuse may have been committed by a janitor. But as the administration began to look into the matter with police, the man’s wife went public with a lawsuit against the school – which ballooned to $125-million (U.S.) and expanded to include accusations against Mr. Bantleman and an Indonesian colleague, Ferdinant Tjiong, both of whom maintain their innocence.

Multiple rapes are now alleged to have occurred – and even been filmed – in offices in the school’s front hall by the men and another administrator during school hours. I saw these offices: They have glass walls. The school’s principal became skeptical when allegations surfaced that Mr. Bantleman had conjured a “magic stone” from thin air to anesthetize his victims.

On Tuesday, as 60 supporters waved banners outside, Mr. Bantleman appeared before a Jakarta court to have an indictment read against him, and things only got stranger.

In October, I visited the main Jakarta police station with Mr. Bantleman’s wife, Tracy, during visiting hours, and surrendered to a guard my B.C. driver’s licence as a necessary piece of identification. At the time, Ms. Bantleman was coming in with Starbucks coffee and sandwiches as part of a daily ritual that was at once comforting and necessary – since the food here was inedible. “Nobody eats it. They say if you open the box, you’ll be leaving in a box,” Mr. Bantleman said. Even Indonesian inmates offered small bribes to get food brought in from outside.

When I met them in October, Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong had been detained without charge for more than 100 days. Mr. Bantleman had a routine: running on the spot, doing yoga and teaching English. Despite fears of being caught up as “pawns” in some kind of broader corruption scheme, they assumed the case would get tossed out – and still had not been provided with any evidence linking the men to abuse.

Things are different now. After pushing the case back to police, the prosecutor finally accepted their file. The two men were moved to the notorious Cipinang prison, where, as alleged child rapists, they are among hardened criminals. An indictment was read in court against Mr. Bantleman on Tuesday, and the defence lawyers said they were shocked the prosecutor said the alleged abuses took place “at a time no longer remembered with certainty.”

Their prominent defence lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea, who is working pro bono and has children at the school, said he suspects the case was “fabricated” because the school refused to pay the lawsuit’s initial sum of $13.5-million (U.S.). When I spoke to Mr. Tjiong, he said an interrogating officer suggested he “make a deal” with the parents. He broke down and cried.

Canada’s ambassador to Indonesia has met Mr. Bantleman multiple times, and the embassies that founded the school 60 years ago – the U.S., Australia and the U.K. – previously issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned” about the men’s detention. If children were abused, at some point, that deserves a serious, thorough investigation. But the defence says police never even interviewed school staff who work in the area where the alleged abuses occurred.

After speaking with Mr. Bantleman, I walked over to see police spokesperson Rikwanto, who has only one name like many Indonesians. He told me police have more than enough evidence to go to trial. “Everything will be exposed in court,” he said. Let’s hope so.

Read story at msn.com