One of the questions the VKU visa scams raise is this: Was TBI always this illegal or is it a comparatively recent development? The short answer is that it has declined rapidly in terms of ethics in recent years, and it mostly comes down to the corrupting influence of Aussie con-man, Luke Preece. The best way to show this by comparing TBI Jakarta vs. Bandung before the new DIKNAS regulations started to bite in 2011.
Before 2010, Luke Preece was the school manager of TBI Dago, the second biggest school in Bandung. A tireless self-promoter and brown-noser, he was already close to Ibu Mariam and Ibu Ning, but he had no involvement whatsoever in daily operations in Jakarta. His influence was confined to Bandung. From 2010 onwards, after the spectacular dismissal of Ashley Platts’s hand-picked “star pupil”, Chris Needham, Luke was promoted to the role of Business Manager of the whole group, and he became highly involved in Jakarta schools too. It is very telling that it was only after Preece was directing operations in Jakarta that the schools their started systematically breaking Indonesian Immigration law.
TBI Bandung- Always Illegal
TBI Bandung was always a cowboy in terms of immigration laws. Allow us to give you some examples. The three best known expats in Bandung are Luke, Jodi and Scott: none of them has a degree in any subject. Even under the old laws these three people were working in Indonesia illegally, with palms being greased at West Java Immigration to get them KITASes. Scott and Jodi freely admitted they had no degree, though Scott had some kind of non-University diploma. It was always common knowledge that Bandung employed loads of expats without degrees. Luke Preece claimed to have a Degree in Science (Geology Major) but we have contacted both universities in South Australia (his home state), where he claimed to have studied. No one called Luke Brenton Preece every graduated from a university in South Australia. In short, TBI Bandung was always scam-ridden.
The examples don’t end there. Matthew France, who later became Luke’s most disruptive crony in TBI Jakarta, who Luke himself wrote a report to HR describing (typically) as “unhinged and unbalanced”, also came from TBI Dago and had no degree. Preece told people in Jakarta it was no problem as TBI Bandung had “channels” for getting visas for unqualified teachers. France was one such example (and repaid the favour by attacking Luke’s next target / rival on a number of occasions- most infamously Chris and Cameron. In short, Bandung always played loose and fast with immigration.
TBI Jakarta- Once Much Cleaner
TBI is now so smeared with a dirty reputation that is almost strange to think it was once respected. Before Preece came to Jakarta, things were much different. When Cam worked as Actel for Chris Needham, he was not able to employ anyone without a degree. Recruitment was very time-consuming and difficult because TBI Jakarta insisted on decent academic qualifications from its teachers. Chris vetoed numerous candidates because he thought they weren’t educated enough. Yes, exceptions were sometimes made, especially if people could get other classes of visa (eg. through a youth exchange program, in one instance), but TBI Jakarta had a deserved reputation for being much stricter and more rigorous than EF and many other competitors. Yes, it is true that this was rank hypocrisy on the part of Ashley and Chris to insist on these standards, because former garbage-truck driver, Chris Needham, had no degree himself. Yet the fact was that many TBI teachers had degrees and people without them were often shown the door.
Luke Preece- The Sleazy Aussie Con-Man
TBI Bandung, as he have shown, was always sleazy and dodgy. Apart from the visa scams (Jodi’s fake degree for example was submitted first by a former manager called Mary, we have learned), there was the massive embezzlement scandal at TBI Dago, right under Preece’s nose. It is common knowledge that 2 billion rupiah was embezzled from the school on Preece’s watch. His finance manager, on around Rp 3 million a month, stole so much money that she was buying houses for herself and her in-laws, even bought a radio station in Bandung and was handing out laptops as gifts! If Luke Preece did not know this was suspicious he must be the most dim-witted person alive. It is simply not plausible he did not know something was amiss, yet he did not report anything. The embezzlement only came out a couple of years later (and was widely known about among Group School managers) when an audit was done. The theft was never reported to the police. No outsiders were ever involved.
What we haven’t added is that right at the same time, Luke Preece bought a house in “the hills of Bandung” which he used to boast was worth around 1 billion rupiah. He paid cash obviously, as he didn’t have a mortgage. So where does a man working for a TEFL academy on Rp 20 million a month get enough to buy a big house with cash? That’s 4 years income right there, and he certainly took lots of holidays and ate out all the time. He also drinks Beer Bintang like a fish. Where, oh where, did that 1 billion rupiah come from? I don’t know the answer for sure, but we went to his house a few times and I know both his parents are still alive. There was no inheritance. There’s only one source I can think of…Perhaps you can think of another one? What I can say is that the received wisdom we have heard from several Indonesian teachers and staff is that, “Everyone knows Luke stole a few billion rupiah from TBI Dago and bribed TBI authorities by cutting them in. That’s why they can’t get rid of him. Now he just lazes around TBI and does no work, except make trouble for people.”
This certainly looks like the case to us, but we haven’t got hard proof. What we do know for sure is that Luke Preece immediately turned TBI Jakarta into an illegal operation when he took over. By June 2011 he issued a group email to every TBI manager instructing them to start hiring teachers on VKU visas (business consultant visas) and lying that it was “in the spirit of the law”. Sorry Luke, but laws don’t have ‘spirits’. We have printed the email several times, as well as other emails where he directed managers to hire teachers who had been rejected by DIKNAS. In short, Luke Preece used his promotion to turn TBI Jakarta into a school which directly and systematically broke the law. This is a matter of reported fact, and it certainly reflects badly on his ethics, characters and mindset in every way. His only defense is some sort of version of “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, meaning it’s ok for him to behave like a corrupt criminal because he lives in Indonesia. This, of course, is self-serving logic if I ever heard it.
The thing is, whatever Preece touches is tainted by corruption, lies and immorality. He has systematically abused his authority and ruined the reputation of TBI in the process. Yet, like any crook, he still tries to evade responsibility for lashing out at the whistle-blowers who exposed him. In the world of the sociopath, anything he does is permissible, and anyone who opposes him is unreasonable, insane and a fair target.