State, Suharto Told to Settle Corruption Case

JAKARTA ~ A court has given former dictator Suharto and state prosecutors 30 days to settle a civil case against him alleging that he misused charity funds during his rule.

State prosecutors filed a civil suit against the ex-president last month seeking more than US$1.5 billion in damages for allegedly channeling funds from a charity he chaired to companies linked to his family members.

“The panel of judges gave both parties in the dispute 30 days for mediation,” chief judge Wahyono told the South Jakarta District Court on Thursday.

He said that if negotiations between Suharto and the prosecutors failed, the court would hear the case.

The civil suit represents revived efforts by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to bring the former strongman to justice, although analysts are skeptical the case will succeed.

A long-running criminal case against Suharto was finally abandoned in May last year on health grounds, triggering widespread criticism of Yudhoyono, who was elected on an anti-corruption platform.

As the latest case is a civil one, Suharto himself will not be required to appear in court as he can be represented by his lawyers.

The foundation in question, Supersemar, was founded in 1974 to collect donations from Indonesia’s private and public sectors to provide scholarships for students.

Suharto stepped down after more than three decades of rule in 1998 and has since lived as a near-recluse at his family’s residence in a leafy Jakarta suburb. He has been in and out of hospital due to various health problems.

A successful case against him would be seen as a symbolic step to improving Indonesia’s dismal corruption record.

Indonesia is consistently rated as one of the most graft-prone nations in the world, a situation largely seen as a result of Suharto’s rule.

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