Time Vows to Fight Defamation Win by Suharto

JAKARTA ~ A lawyer for Time magazine vowed this week to fight a Supreme Court decision awarding former president Suharto US$106 million in a defamation suit he filed against the publication in 1999.

The ruling, announced on Monday, overturns two lower court decisions and also orders the magazine to apologize to Suharto in the Indonesian media and Time’s regional editions for an article alleging that he corruptly amassed wealth.

“This is a blow to freedom of the press, and it means it is not safe for the press to work,” Time lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said.

“So Time will take any legal measures available to defend freedom of the press, because this is important to uphold justice and the truth.”

The decision was ironic, Lubis said, given that the court system is set to hear a civil case against Suharto seeking to retrieve $1.5 billion in state assets and damages over corrupt actions.

“We have to read the verdict before planning what legal measures to take … Time will not give in or accept the decision and will take appropriate legal measures,” he vowed.

Many activists in Indonesia are already irate that the 86-year-old ex-president has avoided being brought to trial over persistent allegations of graft involving himself and his cronies during his 32-year rule.

A long-running criminal case against the former strongman was abandoned in May last year on health grounds.

Suharto had been seeking more than $27 billion in the defamation suit filed against the Asian edition of US-based Time over a May 1999 article claiming he had stashed his alleged ill-gotten gains abroad.

Time said in the article that it had traced some $15 billion in wealth accumulated by Suharto and his six children following a four-month investigation by its correspondents in 11 countries.

The $15 billion, the article alleged, included $9 billion in cash that was transferred from a Swiss to an Austrian bank shortly after Suharto stepped down amid bloody unrest in May 1998.

The magazine also said it had documented that more than $73 billion that passed through the Suharto family’s hands during his rule. The holdings were allegedly eroded by mismanagement and the 1997-98 financial crisis.

Under Indonesian law, the only legal avenue open to Time now would be to file a request for a judicial review, for which new evidence or a procedural dispute needs to be claimed.

“I hope Time can respect and accept the Supreme Court’s decision with a big heart because they have made untrue reports,” one of Suharto’s lawyers, Mohammad Assegaf, said.

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