Suharto wants to find country’s ‘lost wealth’

Missing billions? —————–

PRESIDENT Suharto has ordered Coordinating Minister for Welfare Azwar Anas to investigate reports that Indonesia has “lost wealth” outside its national boundary – including billions of dollars in a bank in Switzerland.

A Bisnis Indonesia daily report yesterday said Mr Suharto had instructed Mr Azwar in April to take the necessary measures to recover such wealth if it existed.

It was not clear immediately what the wealth constituted. But the paper cited government sources as saying they included US$15 billion (S$22 billion) from the Sukarno government apparently deposited in a bank in Switzerland and treasure from a sunken ship.

The deputy chairman of the Supreme Advisory Council, Mr Suhardiman, said that by recovering such riches, Indonesia would “be able to increase its national wealth”. “It could help us repay the loans we have taken from the United States and Japan if we are ever short of funds.”

He said the government would have to set up a special team to conduct investigations if evidence pointed to the existence of such wealth.

Mr Azwar, while acknowledging that he had received the president’s orders to look into the matter, declined to say if a special task force would be formed.

“I will have to ask the President,” the paper quoted him as saying. He declined to comment on what wealth Indonesia could lay claim to amid controversy, in particular, over whether there were still huge sums of money in banks overseas from the Sukarno era.

The newspaper report said more than 90 per cent of the US$15 billion in the Swiss bank was in gold.

It is generally believed that the money was collected over a more than 20-year period, from 1945 to 1967, when Mr Sukarno was President of Indonesia.

State Secretary Moerdiono had said in 1995 that the matter was closed as the government had recovered Rp2,382 billion (S$1.4 billion) in 1987 from a foreign bank which he did not name.

Bisnis Indonesia, which also carried an editorial on the subject yesterday, said the presidential initiative was aimed at improving the government’s image as one that is “clean and responsible”. “The government is showing that it is being open about the national wealth of the country,” it said.

In terms of recovering any such “lost wealth” in the future, the paper pointed as an “inspiration” the widely reported case of the state-owned oil company Pertamina recovering US$80 million from its former executive Achmad Thahir, who deposited the money in the Sumitomo Bank in Singapore.

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