Former Chelsea stars Michael Essien and Carlton Cole are facing the prospect of imprisonment in Indonesia after their club Persib Bandung admitted it had not acquired work permits for the high-profile duo.
Essien and cole were signed last month amid fanfare and made their respective debuts last Saturday in a 0-0 draw against Arema FC.
However, the players and their club may soon be involved in a legal tussle after the government-backed Professional Sports Agency found the players did not have the required work permits to play in the country.
Indeed, the punishment for flouting Indonesian immigrations laws can be harsh with fines of up to 500 million IDR and 5 years of imprisonment.
The club admitted Monday that the players did not have the work permits and they had sought to acquire the documents a few days before their first match.
Persib claims the permits were not ready on time, but the football association and league organiser gave them permission to play.
Persib Manager Umuh Muchtar accused the sports agency of witch hunting the foreign players.
“That they are here is a joy for us, they want to raise up Indonesia’s name in the world,” he said.
He added: “Everybody knows that Essien is a world-class player, not an illegal immigrant.”
Immigration authorities have summoned the club management but it is not clear when the questioning would take place.
An immigration official Agustianur (who like many Indonesians goes by one name) explained that, “They are professionals so they must hold a (work) permit to perform activities in Indonesia.”