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Indonesia Court Clears Tommy Suharto Of Graft

11 Feb

JAKARTA : An Indonesian court rejected Wednesday a 400-million-dollar civil corruption case against the youngest son of Suharto, provoking outrage from anti-graft campaigners.

The Central Jakarta district court cleared Hutomo Mandala Putra, popularly known as Tommy Suharto, of government allegations that he illegally sold off assets to avoid paying debts to the state.

“The panel of judges reject all accusations filed by the plaintiff (the Indonesian government) against all defendants,” judge Reno Lestowo told the court, adding that a countersuit filed by Tommy was also rejected.

The government had alleged that Tommy illegally sold off assets from troubled car importer PT Timor to five of his companies at a discount to avoid paying off state loans made to Timor during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The civil suit filed in May last year alleged Tommy defrauded the government of 400 million dollars by failing to pay off the loans to the business, which imported South Korean cars and changed their labels to make them appear as if they were made in Indonesia.

Four companies allegedly linked to Tommy were also defendants in the case.

The Indonesian government will appeal the court’s decision, state prosecutor Yosef Suardia Sabda told AFP.

“We’ll file an appeal. We’re very disappointed,” he said.

Anti-corruption campaigners reacted to the verdict with anger, saying it showed the anti-corruption drive promised by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government was no match for the ongoing influence of the Suharto clan.

“The government’s effort to bring justice to Tommy Suharto has been a failure,” Emerson Yuntho from anti-corruption group Indonesia Corruption Watch told AFP.

“Many of our leaders in the government are actually products of Suharto’s New Order regime, so they want to maintain relations with Suharto’s family.”

The reputed favourite son of the late Suharto enjoyed insider access to business deals during the crony capitalist years leading up to the Asian financial crisis and his father’s 1998 fall from power.

The case is the latest in a long string of failed legal efforts by Indonesia to reclaim money allegedly taken from the country by Tommy, who is seen by many in Indonesia as representing the worst excesses of his father’s regime.

A court in the British dependency of Guernsey in January reportedly lifted a freeze on 36 million euros (46.6 million dollars) in Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) Paribas account.

Tommy successfully fought off a separate 61-million-dollar civil corruption case against him in February 2008, winning 550,000 dollars in a countersuit.

One of six children, the former playboy also served just a third of a 15-year jail term for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge in July 2002. He was released in October 2006.

Indonesia is ranked as the world’s 126th most corrupt country on Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, on a level pegging with countries including Uganda, Libya and Ethiopia.

Reformist ex-general Yudhoyono was elected by a landslide in 2004 on pledges to tackle the country’s widespread culture of corruption.

- AFP /ls

Channel News Asia

We'Re Printing Money, Claims Casino Tycoon Stanley Ho

9 Feb

HONG KONG – Macau gaming magnate Stanley Ho has ridiculed a magazine article that claimed his personal fortune dropped 89 percent in the past year, insisting his casinos were “printing money”, a Hong Kong daily report said on Monday.

Forbes magazine last week said Ho’s fortune had dropped from nine billion dollars (64.8 billion Hong Kong) to one billion dollars, mainly due to a disappointing listing of his gaming firm Sociedade de Jogos de Macau.

“Our casinos are the equivalent of printing money. We are printing every day, how could we be getting poor?” Ho said, according to the South China Morning Post.

“I suppose I should thank them (Forbes) for this, since now when you ask me to give donations, I don’t have to donate so much,” he said. “Those who want to kidnap me also don’t need to think about it any more. I have no money.”

The nephew of one of Asia’s first tycoons, Ho made his first fortune smuggling luxury goods across the Chinese border from Macau during World War II, before securing the only gaming licence in the then-Portuguese colony in 1962.

He went on to run transport businesses and a racetrack, making him one of Asia’s richest men. Along the way, the keen ballroom dancer cultivated a playboy lifestyle, taking four wives and fathering at least 17 children.

AFP/sf

Channel News Asia

Tennis: Nadal Sets Up Federer Final After Record Aussie Semi

30 Jan

MELBOURNE : Rafael Nadal survived a record five-set battle with fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco on Friday to set up a classic Australian Open final with arch-rival Roger Federer.

Nadal lost his first sets of the tournament but showed incredible resilience to win the epic 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-5 (7/2), 5-7 (1/7) over five hours and 14 minutes, the longest match in the tournament’s history.

“Right now I feel more happy than tired,” Nadal told the crowd. “For sure it’s going to be a tough final. But it was amazing for me to play that match here. It was one of the best matches of my career.”

On Sunday Nadal will play his seventh Major final against Federer, who can equal the Grand Slam titles record. Nadal beat Federer in both the French Open and Wimbledon finals last year and holds a 4-2 edge in the matches.

The Open’s previous longest match was Boris Becker’s 1991 win over Omar Camporese, which lasted five hours and 11 minutes.

Friday’s match also surpassed Nadal’s epic Wimbledon final with Federer last year, (four hours and 48 minutes), and equalled his longest ever match (five hours 14 minutes against Guillermo Coria in the 2005 Rome final).

In a semi-final of remarkable quality, Verdasco looked to have thrown the first set away when he smashed a routine overhead out on his only break point at 2-2.

But he saved break points at 5-5 and edged the tie-break, helped by a huge stroke of luck when a ball which was heading out caught the net and bounced in.

Nadal was rattled but he forced break points at 4-3 in the second and broke for the set when Verdasco went long. With fatigue setting in, both were broken twice in the third before Verdasco sprayed errors to hand over the tie-break.

Nadal was in the ascendancy and Verdasco was struggling as he twice took treatment to his left lower leg, but he quickly recovered and dominated a rousing tie-break 7-1 in the fourth.

It was a fight to the finish and Verdasco saved five break points in the decider before crumbling at 4-5 as he netted on the third match point.

“It’s going to be a little bit tough on Sunday. Roger had today off and only three sets in his semi-final so now, for sure, he’s the favourite,” added Nadal.

“But I’ll try my best.”

Both Nadal and Verdasco are strapping left-handers from Spain, but their careers have been vastly different.

While Nadal is seeking his sixth Grand Slam title, Verdasco had never been past the fourth round in a Major before this tournament.

Nadal added eight titles last year to take his career total to 31, while Verdasco’s only successes have been in Valencia in 2004 and Umag last year.

Verdasco also has a playboy reputation, reportedly dating tennis stars Ana Ivanovic and Gisela Dulko and being linked with a string of Spanish beauties.

But he became a sensation in Spain by subduing fierce partisan crowds and Argentina’s Jose Acasuso over five sets to seal the Davis Cup title, with Nadal out injured.

– AFP /ls

Channel News Asia

Say "I Do" To The Wedding Game

28 Jan

SINGAPORE : Raintree Pictures’ latest romantic comedy “The Wedding Game” was the most talked-about local movie of 2008. Co-written by Desmond Sim, 93.3FM DJ Dennis Chew and director Ekachai Uekrongtham “The Coffin”), it stars celebrity couple Fann Wong and Christopher Lee as celebrated artistes Vikki and Jack who are in a much publicised romance of their own.

But they are not the couple they pretend to be. They detest each other, but suffer through pretending for the sake of the money – Vikki needs to raise funds to save her father’s ailing business while playboy Jack wants to prove himself to his father as well as salvage his tarnished image after he was caught in the centre of a scandal.

This elaborate sham is cooked up by their managers Tom and May, played by Hei Ren and Alice Lau, and they make the couple take the fake romance a step further by getting hitched.

Jack pops the question while making his acceptance speech during the live telecast of an awards show. Vikki accepts, much to the delight of fans and the paparazzi.

As Vikki and Jack cash in on news of their impending marriage, evidence of them faking their romance lands in the hands of the media and sparks a media frenzy. Tom and May swing into damage control mode by having Jack and Vikki move in together. Knowing that they are being followed, the couple ham it up for the cameras.

The on-screen chemistry between Fann and Christopher is undeniable, and I especially enjoyed the practical jokes they played on one another, some of which were unscripted – they are funny, but not slapstick. But “The Wedding Game” is not all about the laughs, beneath it all lays a heart warming story.

It is great to see Fann taking on comedic roles for a change – watch out for the wrestling scene. But Hei Ren’s performance as Vikki’s gay manager Tom is unconvincing, and at times cringe-worthy. For those who enjoy star spotting, there are cameos by Team Singapore athletes and MediaCorp artistes dotted throughout the film.

Overall this funny and heart-warming comedy is well paced, easy to watch, and certainly lives up to the hype.

Channel News Asia

Love Really Matters

23 Jan

SINGAPORE: Barely half a year after the release “Money No Enough 2″, comes another film by Jack Neo – together with director Gilbert Chan – exploring topical issues flavoured with a dollop of Singaporean humour.

“Love Matters” explores the lives of three guys: 52-year-old Tan Bo Seng (Henry Thia) who leads a routine life and seeks to revive the passion with his wife Jia Li (Yeo Yann Yann). There is the playboy Jeremy (Jack Lim) who proudly proclaims his motto for love as “Never to commit”. Lastly, there is Benny (Alex Leong) who has a huge crush on his classmate’s girlfriend Jennifer (Natalli) who typifies the Y-generation going through puppy love.

“The topic of love is not something that is openly discussed in the Asian society, but it does not mean that people don’t ponder about it or see it,” says Neo.

The subject of sex seems to be considered a taboo in Asian cultures, and perhaps it can be seen by the NC-16 rating, a first for Neo’s films, that has been slapped on by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

“I was surprised to hear that the movie had been rated as NC-16,” says Neo who insists that “Love Matters” does not carry any sex or nudity scenes.

Like all his films which probe, and urge for reflection, what Neo wanted to portray with his latest film was the power of love.

At the risk of sounding clich
, “Love Matters” provides an entertaining look of love in a straight-laced society.

The movie which was filmed entirely in Kulua Lumpur, Malaysia, is about the happiness that is intrinsically tied to the notion of love that has the ability to heal and connect humans, shares Neo.

And on his blog, Neo mentions a quote that rings true in his latest movie, “Those who are not in love yearn for love; those who are loved don’t know how to love; and those who are in love for too long no longer feel the love.”

The lead stars of the film, funnyman with his trademark deadpan expression Henry Thia and Yeo Yan Yan, star of Royston Tan’s “881″ were also engaged in a friendly banter about the distinct differences of “Western love” and “Asian love”.

“Western love is all about the speech. To them, saying ‘I Love You’ seems to be at the tip of their tongues, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I hear an Asian stuttering it,” jokes Yeo.

Indeed, Asians are more inclined to display small acts of affection.

For one, Yeo – who is currently single – admits that she is an easy target for simple acts of love. After all, actions speak louder than words!

“You can buy me just one stalk of flower on a random day, and I would be over the moon!” Yeo exclaims.

And more often than not, underlying these simple acts is how practical love is in nature, a distinct characteristic of ‘Asian love’.

Both Neo and Thia recounted personal incidents where they had been gently rebuked by their wives for “wasting” money on flowers during Valentine’s Day.

“I have since learned my lesson, and every time a special occasion rolls around, I know that the most fool-proof gift to my wife would be a red packet!” jokes Thia.

Laughter aside, Thia describes his long relationship with his wife, “Honest communication and being able to give whole-heartedly, without expecting anything in return are the keys (to a successful marriage). Of course, if (the act) is reciprocated, it is a bonus!”

Acting together as an on-screen couple came easy for Yeo and Thia, despite the former being the same age as Thia’s daughter in real life!

“Being a couple on screen was so natural, to the extent that it was scary!” exclaims Yeo.

And the telepathy and connection they had were obvious. Both of them were wearing the same colour shade (pink!) – which the duo maintained that they had decided on individually and it was just all a coincidence!

“Love Matters” is now in theatres.

Channel News Asia

Fann And Christopher Make Reel Love

20 Jan

SINGAPORE : After seven years of courtship and eight on-screen collaborations – six of which they played lovers – Singapore’s favourite local celebrity couple Fann Wong and Christopher Lee will be tying the knot for real and reel.

They will first walk down the aisle on screen in Raintree Pictures’ latest romantic comedy “The Wedding Game” which opens in cinemas in Singapore and Malaysia this weekend.

Though they play a celebrity couple on screen, this is not a case of art immitating life. In fact, the couple said the movie is “very different” from real life.

“This movie is not about Fann Wong and Christopher Lee. It’s about these two celebrities who are getting married to get more jobs and sponsors,” Fann said.

In the movie, Fann plays Vikki, a popular actress who wants to earn more money to save her father’s business, while Christopher is playboy Jack who hopes this marriage of convenience will give his sagging acting career a boost.

One of the advantages of being a real life couple was that the pair were at ease when filming intimate scenes.

“It’s much easier to work with Chris because I trust him,” said Fann, adding that it also helped that the crew were very “protective” of them.

“When they want us to do some intimate scenes, or be lovey-dovey, they will ask us in a very nice way ‘Are you comfortable? Are you okay?’”

Though the couple did not pick up any wedding tips while filming, Fann said she was inspired to hold her wedding at the Singapore National Museum after shooting a scene there.

“I’ve asked, but the place is too small,” said Christopher, adding that their upcoming nuptials will be a big affair as they wish to share the joyous occasion with everyone.

While most of you will not make it to the couple’s guest list of their September wedding, you are invited to their on-screen wedding when “The Wedding Game” opens in theatres on January 25.

- CNA/km/il

Channel News Asia

British PM Backs Prince Harry After Racist Remark

12 Jan

LONDON: Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday that the British public would give Prince Harry the “benefit of the doubt” over his home movie showing him calling army colleagues “Paki” and “raghead.”

Brown said the 24-year-old royal, who is third in line to the throne, knew his language was unacceptable and his apology was sincere.

But the father of the Pakistani soldier who Harry called “our little Paki friend” said he could not accept the prince’s apology, insisting that he should say sorry to the Islamabad government.

The News of the World newspaper on Sunday published the video clips made by Harry in 2006 while he was an army officer cadet.

The prince’s office said Harry was extremely sorry for any offence caused.

“The sincerity of his apology cannot be doubted,” Brown told GMTV television.

“It was a mistake, he has made the admission of that and, once he has made his apology, I think the British people are good enough to give someone who has actually been a role model for young people and has done well fighting for our country, gone into very difficult situations with bravery, I think they will give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I think Prince Harry knows that these comments are unacceptable.

“I think it is a genuine apology. These comments have no part in our life.”

The Ministry of Defence said the prince’s commanding officer would look into his remarks. However, he will not face a formal investigation.

Despite trying to shake off his “playboy prince” image through his charity work and military service in Afghanistan, Harry has repeatedly found himself in hot water for his comments and antics – most infamously for wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party.

The latest embarrassing images were shot as Harry was waiting with his platoon in an airport departure lounge for a flight to a training exercise in Cyprus three years ago.

Touring the room with a video camera as his colleagues snooze, he spots a colleague whose family is of South Asian origin and says: “Anybody else around here?… Ah, our little Paki friend, Ahmed.”

“Paki” is a racist term for Pakistanis or other South Asians and is thought to have been directed at Ahmed Raza Khan, who served with Harry at Britain’s prestigious Sandhurst military academy.

Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II presented Khan with the Overseas Sword for being the best foreign cadet in April 2006.

The prince’s office insisted he had used the term without malice.

“Prince Harry fully understands how offensive this term can be, and is extremely sorry for any offence his words might cause,” a spokesman said.

“However, on this occasion three years ago, Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon.

“There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend.”

Khan’s father Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Abbasi said he was “very, very hurt” by the “disgraceful insult”, telling the Daily Mail newspaper from Pakistan: “That word he used is a hate word and should never be used against any Pakistani.

“Prince Harry should apologise to the Pakistani army and to the Pakistani government for this. I cannot accept his apology unless they first accept his apology.”

News of the World said Harry made the “raghead” remark – a racist term for Arabs – while taking part in night manoeuvres in Cyprus.

The prince is filming when he spots a comrade with camouflage netting over his head and as he faces the camera, Harry says: “It’s Dan the Man… you look like a raghead.”

The royal spokesman said: “Prince Harry used the term ‘raghead’ to mean Taliban or Iraqi insurgent.”

Harry is the youngest son of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and Diana, the late princess of Wales.

In another clip from the three-minute video, Harry pretends to make a mobile phone call to Queen Elizabeth.

He says: “Granny, I’ve got to go. Send my love to the corgis. And Grandpa… Bye. God save you. Yeah, that’s great. See you, bye.”

– AFP/so

Channel News Asia

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