Doubts raised over Tommy Suharto probe

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2007, 12:00am

Watchdogs fear graft inquiry may founder

Indonesian Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji's intention to reopen a corruption case against Tommy Suharto has been welcomed by the country's anti-graft organisations - but doubts remain whether he has the necessary political backing to pursue the case.

Frenky Simanjuntak, a representative of Transparency International, said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's recent cabinet reshuffle, in which Mr Hendarman was promoted, was an encouraging sign. But he noted the enduring power of Suharto and the former dictator's son.

'It would seem that the government is willing to fight corruption more vigorously. Yudhoyono has dismissed the ministers implicated in corruption scandals and promoted Supandji, who has a good track record,' he said, citing the reshuffle on May 7.

'At least at the beginning, I believe that Supandji will have some political support. But it must be seen if this will be enough. Suharto is still very powerful.'

The ministers dismissed were justice minister Hamid Awaluddin and state secretary Yusril Mahendra. Both are under investigation for allegedly authorising the use of government bank accounts to launder millions for Tommy Suharto, 44.

Danang Widojoko, deputy co-ordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch, also expressed some optimism about the inquiry.

'As far as I know, this time there are no political barriers to go after Tommy. There are several cases concerning him that were never properly investigated, and now is a good time to look deeper into them,' he said.

'I think Supandji will make some inroads because if Tommy is not prosecuted, Indonesia will not get its money back,' he added, citing the huge sums described at an ongoing trial involving Tommy Suharto's company at a court on Guernsey Island in Britain.

The attorney-general's office has said the probe will centre on Tommy Suharto's former clove monopoly, operated in the 1990s via the Clove Marketing and Buffer Stock Agency. The cartel forced tobacco companies to buy from Suharto at inflated prices the spice used in a popular local variety of cigarettes known as kretek.

The monopoly folded after pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which demanded its closure in return for cash injections to help the country cope with the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It left behind huge debts to farmers and banks.

Mr Hendarman's drive was spurred by the trial in Guernsey, which started when Tommy Suharto's company Garnet Investment sued BNP Paribas bank over its refusal to release Euro60 million (HK$632.3 million) in frozen accounts early this year.

Jakarta was drawn into the fray after the court approved its request to take part as a third party in the case.

The bank froze the accounts because it feared that the money had come from illegal sources. What made BNP Paribas suspicious was that Tommy Suharto had opened three accounts simultaneously on July 22, 1998, after his father was forced out of power on May 21.

Prosecutors want to confiscate the money to cover some of the losses to the state incurred by Tommy Suharto's former companies, which left unpaid loans and damages awards amounting to billions of US dollars.

Tempo magazine reported that Tommy Suharto's lawyer, Otto Cornelis Kaligis, responded by saying: 'Prove whether there is a relationship between these companies and Garnet.'

The Guernsey court is likely to deliver a verdict today.

Tommy Suharto was released early from prison in October after serving only a third of his 15-year jail term for ordering the murder of a supreme court justice who had found him guilty of corruption.

He and his siblings have amassed huge fortunes and continue to run firms established during Suharto's 33-year regime, which ended in 1998.

Negative legacy

Amount (in rupiah) paid by Jakarta to cover debts left by Tommy Suharto's clove-marketing monopoly, according to the government: 2.7trillion