Govt. Seeks $1.4bn from Suharto

SuhartoJAKARTA ~ The central government sought this week for ex-president Suharto and a charity he chaired while in power to hand over US$1.4 billion in stolen assets and damages in a civil suit against them.

State prosecutor Dachmer Munthe, reading an indictment at the opening hearing on Monday, said that Suharto and the Supersemar Scholarship Foundation misused $440 million.

“The first and second defendants (Suharto and the foundation) utilized funds that were gathered … against the aims of the foundation,” he said.

Munthe said the government was also seeking additional damages of Rp10 trillion ($1 billion).

The prosecutor alleged that the foundation had distributed funds meant to go to needy students to private companies from 1982 to 1993.

“If that money can be recovered, there will be more than a thousand people who could obtain scholarships,” Munthe added.

The recipients included an airline owned by Suharto’s youngest son that went bankrupt, an ailing bank in which the foundation had stakes and paper and pulp companies linked to a close Suharto crony, Muhammad “Bob” Hassan.

At the trial, a group representing former and current recipients of scholarships from the foundation presented a demand to be involved in the lawsuit as plaintiffs, apparently fearing they could be asked to return the funds they received.

Judge Wahyono, who is heading the panel of judges hearing the case, accepted the intervention and said a decision would later be made as to the position of the group in the suit.

The civil suit represents apparently revived efforts by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to bring Suharto to justice, although analysts have been doubtful that the case – resting on evidence decades old – will succeed.

A long-running criminal case against Suharto was abandoned in May last year on health grounds, triggering widespread criticism of Yudhoyono.

In a surprise ruling earlier this month, the Supreme Court awarded Suharto about $106 million in damages in a libel case against US-based Time magazine, which alleged in a 1999 article that the ex-president and his family had stolen up to $73 billion.

The ageing Suharto stepped down amid violent protests in 1998 after a 32-year rule.

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