Why is a Singapore firm suing the children of Indonesian dictator Suharto over a theme park?
- Mitora Pte Ltd is demanding US$40 million and trying to reclaim land and buildings that are part of the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah park
- Under the Suharto family’s management the park has incurred massive losses. Some say now is the time for a more thorough audit of the dictator’s legacy
Mitora Pte Ltd filed a lawsuit at a South Jakarta court on March 8 against Siti Hardiyanti Hastuti Rukmana, Bambang Trihatmodjo, Siti Hediati Hariyadi, Sigit Harjojudanto, and Siti Hutami Endang Adiningsih. Other defendants in the case include the administrators at the family’s Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Foundation; Soehardjo Soebardi, a lawyer for the family; and the National Land Agency’s Central and East Jakarta branches.
In the lawsuit, the company seeks to confiscate 20 hectares of land in east Jakarta that hosts the Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Museum and the Puri Jati Ayu, a house built for Suharto by his wife, Tien Suharto.
Both the land and the buildings are part of the 146-hectare TMII complex. Mitora also seeks to confiscate land in the upscale area of Menteng in central Jakarta and is demanding payments totalling 584 billion rupiah (nearly US$40 million), citing unpaid “obligations” and “immaterial losses”.
Court proceedings began last week.
The government plans to appoint a state-owned enterprise experienced in tourism to improve the park’s operations.
“One of our considerations was that the park incurred annual losses of 40 to 50 billion rupiah [US$2.7-3.4 million],” Moeldoko, chief of presidential staff, said on Friday.
The Harapan Kita foundation said on Sunday it would cooperate with the government.
Mitora is a business and management consultancy firm incorporated in Singapore. Indonesian, Japanese and Singaporean citizens are listed on its board of directors, while an American and an Indonesian are listed as shareholders. It remains tight-lipped on the exact charges against the defendants. The firm’s Indonesian lawyer did not respond to This Week in Asia’s repeated requests for comments, which included a question on why the Indonesian government was also a party to the suit.
However, this is not the first lawsuit the company – which was appointed to help develop TMII in 2014 – has filed against Suharto’s children.
In 2018, it filed a lawsuit to the same court against the same five siblings, along with the Harapan Kita and Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Foundations, TMII management, and Indonesia’s state secretariat. On that occasion it demanded payment of 1.1 trillion rupiah (US$75.3 million), but withdrew the lawsuit after mediation.
Whatever the outcome of the latest court case, it is unlikely to put a significant dent in the wealth of Suharto’s offspring.
His six children infamously earned fortunes from contracts granted by their father in various spheres of business, including infrastructure and commodities. For decades, their monopolies, popularly referred to as Suharto Inc, operated with little to no oversight.
Suharto stepped down in 1998, ending 32 years of authoritarian rule. The Berlin-based anti-corruption NGO Transparency International has branded him “the world’s most corrupt leader”, alleging that during his rule he embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion from state funds.
His children’s wealth has never been properly audited and they continue to amass fortunes from a myriad of businesses.
In 2018, Suharto’s eldest child, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, had a net worth of US$205 million, according to the business magazine Globe Asia. Her fortune is mainly derived from tollway companies and property investments.
Suharto’s second child, Sigit Harjojudanto, is more reserved than his siblings. Sigit’s net worth in 1998 was US$455 million, according to The Washington Post. Sigit owns a significant share in the Humpuss Group, which has about 10 subsidiaries in various industries such as oil and gas, shipping and property.
The third child, Bambang Trihatmodjo, was estimated by Globe Asia in 2018 to be worth US$250 million. His wealth mainly comes from property, though he also founded a television station in 2013. In 1998, The Washington Post reported his assets to be worth a whopping US$2.18 billion.
Hutomo Mandala Putra, Suharto’s fifth child who is also known as Tommy, is the richest of the siblings, with a net worth estimated by Globe Asia at US$670 million. Alongside Sigit, he is also a major shareholder in Humpuss Group. During the Suharto era, he was given monopolies in the cloves and soybean trades and was also involved in various businesses partnerships with Suharto’s cronies encompassing airlines, construction, tollways, and sugar and palm oil plantations.
TMII was the brainchild of Suharto’s wife, who was inspired by visits to Disneyland in the United States and a miniature park in Bangkok in the early 1970s.
Students and scholars opposed the plan on the grounds it would be a waste of money. Government officials at the time had estimated it would cost 10 billion rupiah (about US$50 million in 1970s rates).
Not to be put off, Tien reportedly collected the wives of all of Indonesia’s provincial governors and asked them to lobby their husbands to fund the construction. At that time, with Suharto at the height of his powers, it was a request they would have felt unable to refuse.
“Social scientists at that time saw TMII as a manifestation of how prevalent patrimonial politics were under [Suharto],” said JJ Rizal, founder of Jakarta-based history books publisher Komunitas Bambu.
Many critics also saw the park as breaking Jakarta’s master plan for green spaces, he said.
Despite continuing protests, construction on the park began in 1972 and was completed in 1975.
Rizal said that the current controversy about TMII should be used as an opportunity to “properly audit all of Suharto’s foundations, his family, and his cronies”.
“After 1998, there have been efforts to sweep the worst things [about Suharto] under the rug so that we can only remember the good things,” Rizal said.
“This is a good opportunity to question, again, just how big was the scale of corruption, collusion, and nepotism under his leadership.”