Billion-Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against US Embassy, Australian Media Over WikiLeaks Cables

JAKARTA

A group of Indonesians filed a billion-dollar lawsuit on Tuesday against the US embassy in Jakarta and two Australian newspapers over articles based on leaked US cables accusing the country’s president of abuse of power.

The group, called the State-Owned Enterprise’s Labour Union, said the Fairfax-owned newspapers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald failed to provide adequate checks and balances before they ran the stories on Friday.

“We have filed a defamation suit to the Central Jakarta District Court against the newspaper companies today as the allegations have ruined our national pride,” the group’s lawyer Habiburokhman told AFP.

“They have tarnished the good name of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and gave the image that Indonesia is a corrupt country,” he added.

In its article entitled Yudhoyono: Abused Power, The Age said “the cables say Mr Yudhoyono has personally intervened to influence prosecutors and judges to protect corrupt political figures and pressure his adversaries.”

Yudhoyono also used “the Indonesian intelligence service to spy on political rivals and, at least once, a senior minister in his own government,” the paper said.

It also accused the president’s wife Kristiani Herawati and her family of seeking fortunes through their political connections.

“The cables did not say Yudhoyono had abused power so their headline was misleading. They cooked up their own story to make our president look bad,” Habiburokhman said.

Analysts say the group’s move was a knee-jerk reaction that had little chance of success.

“This is just a form of emotional reaction from the people which is likely to lead nowhere,” political analyst Yunarto Wijaya said.

On Monday Yudhoyono said he had been subjected to “character assasination” over leaked US cables that accused him of misusing his authority.

Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the US Embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday demanding the US government apologise over the leaked cables, the Detikcom news website reported.

“The US government must apologise over the leaked diplomatic cables that have no quality and have hurt the feelings of Indonesians,” protest coordinator Ahmad Suhaimi was quoted as saying.

Indonesia scored 2.8 out of 10 in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010, ranking it 110th out of 178 countries.

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