Autopsy underway to answer suspicions surrounding death of Sangihe Deputy Regent Helmud Hontong

Sangihe Islands Deputy Regent Helmud Hontong
Sangihe Islands Deputy Regent Helmud Hontong

The North Sulawesi Police says it is carrying out an autopsy on the body of Sangihe Islands Deputy Regent Helmud Hontong, who died last Wednesday under suspicious circumstances.

The 58-year-old was on a flight from Denpasar to Makassar when, according to his aide, he lost consciousness and blood flowed out of his nose and mouth. He was pronounced dead upon arrival in Makassar, with police initially ruling his death to be the result of a heart attack.

Suspicions were immediately raised as Helmud was reportedly in perfectly good health when he boarded the plane, and the fact that his death came in the midst of his opposition toward the massive expansion of a gold mine in his regency.

Unlike his superiors, Helmud vehemently opposed the gold mine, which is backed by a Canadian investor, on the basis that it would violate laws on environmental preservation. The residents of Sangihe also opposed the mine, as they were only offered IDR5,000 (US$0.35) per square meter as compensation for their land.

Amid pressure from environmental and human rights groups to investigate Helmud’s death, the North Sulawesi Police says it has carried out an autopsy on the deputy regent, and that his cause of death will be revealed in two weeks’ time.

However, initial assessments from the autopsy suggest that foul play was unlikely.

“We did not find poison during the autopsy,” North Sulawesi Police spokesman Jules Abraham Abast said today.

An activist group opposing the gold mine previously said that Helmud’s family refused an autopsy as they did not wish for his body to be cut open. The family also said that Helmud had a long history of health conditions, including asthma and heart problems.

Following Helmud’s death, the House of Representatives (DPR) has called on the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry (ESDM) to review the January 2021 permit it issued to the gold miner, which allowed it to expand its operations throughout 42,000 hectares of land — more than half the total land mass of the Sangihe Island regency.

Before his death, Helmud wrote an official letter to the ministry urging it to rescind the permit.

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