Court rules Suharto trial is on, again

Corruption charges against former Indonesian leader will be heard, as search for fugitive son Tommy goes on

An Indonesian appeals court yesterday ordered a resumption of the trial of former president Suharto just months after he was declared medically unfit to stand trial on corruption charges.

And in a sign the government was tightening the screws on Mr Suharto and his family, President Abdurrahman Wahid has ordered the arrest of businessman and youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra, who remains in hiding.

Police raided the homes of Suharto family members in search of 38-year-old Hutomo, also known as Tommy, who has been found guilty of graft and sentenced to 18 months’ jail.

The search for Tommy by the police since last Friday has drawn an angry response from Mr Abdurrahman, whose government has been under domestic and international pressure to tackle the two cases which are seen as a litmus test of Jakarta’s resolve to tackle corruption.

Presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar said Mr Abdurrahman “wants to get signals out that he will act against the Suharto family”.

Notwithstanding the failure to arrest Hutomo, observers said the President had silenced his critics somewhat and raised his political standing by keeping the trial alive.

The Appeals Court had overturned a decision by a South Jakarta District Court, which dismissed the case against Mr Suharto in September after doctors declared he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

High Court spokesman Maruarar said the case against Mr Suharto, which involved the misuse of more than US$500 million (S$875 million) from seven tax-free foundations he ran, had to resume even if the former leader failed to appear at the hearing.

Mr Suharto did not turn up for any of the three sessions of his earlier trial, which had been criticised and tainted the legal system’s credibility.

Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman told The Straits Times that the earlier decision by the lower court “did not reflect the full extent of the law that required Mr Suharto to be hospitalised or permanently unfit”.

“We are back to where we were but it gives us another crack at the case,” he said.

Turning to Tommy, who was charged for a US$11-million land scam, he said Mr Abdurrahman was “unhappy because Tommy is not only ignoring the law but is also showing defiance by offering a deal”.

Lawyers for the multimillionaire yesterday also applied for a review of the Supreme Court verdict.

Separately, Mr Suharto’s lawyers lost no time attacking the Jakarta court’s decision to reopen his case.

Posted in Indonesia