Indonesian court orders Suharto heirs to defend graft case
Tue, Feb 12, 2008

JAKARTA - A $1.5 billion (S$2.12 billion) civil suit against former Indonesian President Suharto for graft must now be defended by one of his six children following his death last month, a Jakarta district court said on Tuesday.

Suharto's family accumulated extensive business interests during the former strongman's three decades in power, including hotels, toll roads, car manufacturers, airlines, and television stations.

Transparency International ranked Suharto, who died in hospital at the age of 86 on Jan 27, as the world's leading kleptocrat with a fortune estimated at $15-$35 billion.

Last year, Indonesian prosecutors filed a civil suit, seeking a total of $440 million of state funds and a further 10 trillion rupiah (S$1.53 billion) in damages for alleged misuse of funds held by one of Suharto's charitable foundations.

On Tuesday, the presiding judge at the court ordered the prosecutor to summon one of Suharto's six children, who according to Muslim custom are all considered to be his heirs, as a defendant so that the graft case could resume.

Prosecutor Dachmer Munthe said the state had not decided who would take Suharto's place as defendant, but that all three daughters and all three sons would be summoned to a court hearing next week.

'Suharto's death will not affect the proceedings of this case in any way. The law clearly says if the defendant died, his heir will be summoned to continue the case,' Mr Munthe told reporters.

Suharto was ousted in 1998 amid political and economic chaos. While he is credited by many for pulling millions of Indonesians out of poverty, his rule was also marred by human rights abuses and widespread corruption.

The civil suit against Suharto is seen as an important test of the government's commitment to clamp down on widespread corruption.

The foundation collected donations from businessmen and other sources to provide scholarships. Many organisations regarded such donations as more or less compulsory during Suharto's rule.

In previous hearings, prosecutors told the court that during the 1980s and 1990s, the foundation paid money to companies owned by members of the Suharto family or their close associates.

These included a privately owned bank, an airline controlled by one of Suharto's sons, a logging firm, and a cooperative linked to Golkar, the political party which was run by Suharto and which is now a member of the ruling coalition.

Critics say the former general and his family amassed as much as $45 billion (S$63.8 billion) in kickbacks or deals, but Suharto and his family always denied any wrongdoing.

Attempts to bring criminal charges for graft against Suharto were dropped in 2001 because the supreme court justice at that time ruled he was too ill to stand trial. -- REUTERS

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