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