Case against Suharto closed

Judges declare him medically unfit for trial, but son Tommy to be put behind bars for 18 months over land scam.

Former President Suharto was a free man yesterday as top Indonesian judges dismissed a historic corruption case against him, declaring that he was medically unfit to stand trial.

But as the 79-year-old strongman escaped more than 20 corruption charges and had his house arrest and travel restrictions lifted, the government sought to deflect public anger by announcing that his youngest son, Hutomo “Tommy”

Mandala Putra, was going behind bars on Monday over a US$11 million (S$19 million) land scam.

Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra said that he had ordered Hutomo to be detained at the high-security Cipinang state jail to serve out an 18-month sentence.

If this gave hope to critics, it did little to appease hundreds of angry demonstrators who vented their frustrations against what was perceived as a dramatic setback for the reform agenda.

In the most glaring instance, police fired tear gas and beat up several students who hurled Molotov cocktails at them
outside the court.

The pandemonium outside the makeshift courtroom was in stark contrast to the stunned silence among several hundred people in the heavily-guarded courtroom when presiding judge Lalu Mariyun banged the gavel three times and declared the “case is closed”.

The prosecution gave immediate notice of appeal.

Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman said that he was “most disappointed” with the court’s decision.

A presidential aide conceded the government did not have the political will to mete out justice against Mr Suharto for allegedly embezzling US$550 million from charities he controlled during his three decades in power.

“Ideally, it would have been better to go all the way in prosecuting him but his children would not have any of it,” the source told The Straits Times.

“It is this obsession they have about keeping their father’s pride intact. In the end, we let him go on the legal technicality that he is too sick to stand trial.”

A 23-member team of court-appointed doctors said during the hearing that Mr Suharto, who had suffered three strokes, had the comprehension of a young child and was unfit to stand trial.

Mr Suharto’s lawyer, Mr Juan Felix Tampubolon, said later that this meant his client could not be brought to court on any charges for the rest of his life.

He threatened to sue the Attorney-General’s Office for filing charges that “created public opinion that has morally disadvantaged” Mr Suharto.

‘Too sick’

‘Based on neurological and psychiatric tests, Suharto has trouble expressing himself. When he speaks, he stops often and uses sign language to express himself. He cannot understand complex ideas.’
– Dr Zakaria, head of the independent medical team that examined the former Indonesian President last week

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