Subject: Dying Suharto, kleptocrat and butcher, slips away from justice

The Times (London)

January 12, 2008

Dying Suharto, kleptocrat and butcher, slips away from justice

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor

Indonesia was at the end of an era last night, as its former dictator Suharto, the general and mystic who for 32 years dominated the world's largest Muslim nation, teetered on the verge of death.

The country's senior politicians and members of his family gathered at his bedside as the disgraced former President suffered multiple organ failure and lost consciousness after a week of deteriorating health. "We put him on a ventilator and gave him medication to overcome this critical condition," Marjo Soebiandono, one of his doctors, told a press conference at the Pertamina hospital in the capital, Jakarta.

Paying their last respects were Indonesia's Vice-President, Yusuf Kalla, and Suharto's half-brother, Probosutedjo, who was allowed out of prison, where he is serving a four-year sentence for corruption.

Suharto's death at the age of 86 will draw attention to the failure of the Indonesian Government and of international organisations to bring to justice a man believed widely to be one of the greatest kleptocrats and butchers of the 20th century.

The Indonesian Government brought a civil case against Suharto and one of his foundations recently, accusing him of stealing $441 million (£ 225 million) from state institutions between 1978 and 1998, when he was driven from power by a popular uprising. After he came to power in 1965, following a mysterious coup against Sukarno, the previous President, an estimated 500,000 Indonesians were murdered in massacres of alleged communists, carried out with the tacit approval of Suharto.

Then there was the invasion and occupation of East Timor, where another 200,000 people were reckoned to have died from war and deprivation, and the long-running independence war in Aceh. The Government's estimate of the loot amassed by Suharto and his "cronies" is modest compared with that of the anti corruption organisation Transparency International, which in 2004 reckoned his total takings at $35bn, more than the late Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines or Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Growing resentment at such corruption, combined with the devastating effects of the Asian financial crisis, precipitated his sudden fall in May 1998 and the restoration of democracy.

Despite half-hearted efforts at prosecution by subsequent governments, Suharto was never brought to justice. A series of judges accepted the claims of his lawyers that he was too sick and mentally enfeebled to stand trial. But Suharto had so dominated his people during three decades in power that even to those who hated him and fought against his oppression, the thought of sending him to jail would have been a kind of parricide.

He was born on the city of Yogyakarta in Java, a centre of religious study and mysticism. He fought the Dutch in Indonesia's war of independence after the Second World War. Throughout his period in power, he was supported by Western governments who regarded him as a bulwark against communism in South-East Asia. Among his own people, he encouraged the belief that he possessed supernatural powers. He spent his last eight years living quietly in his home in Sandalwood Street in central Jakarta, only occasionally going out.

As Indonesians awaited the latest bulletins on his health yesterday, a group of human rights activists gathered outside the hospital, offering flowers for his recovery and waving banners with the slogan "Put Suharto on trial". Usman Hamid, head of the human rights group Kontras, said: "For now, we hope Suharto will recover soon. But in regards to his legal status, a thorough consideration needs to be made taking into account his services to this nation and crimes he committed in the past."


* The Suharto family's estate includes homes in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Hawaii as well as a multimillion-dollar mansion outside Los Angeles

* In 2004, when the Berlin-based anti-graft NGO named Suharto

the single most corrupt leader of all time, the GDP per head of Indonesia was just $3,500 (£ 1,800)

* In 1998, the value of the Indonesian rupiah fell 80 per cent. Suharto exhorted his population to make financial sacrifices while shifting his assets abroad

* "Tommy", Suharto's favoured son, was granted a monopoly on cloves used in the manufacture of kretek cigarettes in the 1990s. By 1993 this yielded $40 million for a controlling stake in Lamborghini

Source: Transparency International; CIA World Factbook; Agencies; Times archives

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