Subject: FT: Suharto Libel Award Overturned [3 updates]

also: Reuters: Indonesia court says Time magazine wins Suharto case; AP: Indonesia's top court clears Time Magazine of charges of defaming ex-dictator Suharto

Financial Times (UK) April 16, 2009

Suharto Libel Award Overturned

By John Aglionby in Jakarta

Indonesia’s supreme court has overturned a Rp1,000bn libel award to the late dictator Suharto against Time magazine of the US for a 1999 article alleging that he amassed a $15bn fortune.

Hatta Ali, one of the presiding judges, said on Thursday on the court’s website: “The story in Time magazine is still within the press code of conduct so it is not acting against the law.”

The ruling is the first in a media case since the new chief justice issued a circular that all media cases should be tried under the press law and not the criminal code.

But editors are warning that because Indonesia’s legal system is so inconsistent it will take several cases before they are confident that a new era of press freedom has begun.

Endy Bayuni, the Jakarta Post’s editor, said: “It’s great that Time has won but we’ll have to see if this is going to be a trend of the courts being more supportive of press freedom.

“The previous chief justice also said that the press law should be used in media cases but it didn’t happen. There’s no system of precedence here so it all depends on the individual judges.”

Time alleged, in an article entitled “The Family Firm”, that Mr Suharto and his family made about $15bn (€11bn, £10bn) during his 32 years in power that ended amid riots in 1998. The former general, who died last year aged 86, sued Time in 1999 for Rp183,000bn ($17bn, €13bn, £11bn). He lost, and lost again on appeal in 2001. But in September 2007 the supreme court ruled in Mr Suharto’s favour. In addition to the financial award, the court ordered Time to publish apologies in three consecutive editions of more than a dozen local newspapers and magazines.

Time could not appeal again but sought a judicial review on the grounds that the judges made “fundamental and manifest errors”, according to Todung Mulya Lubis, the magazine’s lawyer.

Mr Todung described the verdict as a “landmark decision”.

“The press has been under attack recently across the country,” he said. “This should be a precedent that the courts will defend the freedom of the press.”

Mr Suharto was prosecuted for corruption after he was toppled but doctors said he was too ill to stand trial.

In March last year he and his heirs were acquitted in a $1.54bn civil suit brought by the government over alleged misuse of funds by a charity he established while in power.

The charity, the Supersemar Foundation, was found to have broken the law by diverting money earmarked for scholarships to private companies, many linked to Suharto or the then ruling Golkar party. It was ordered to repay to the government 25 per cent of the $440m allegedly misused.


Indonesia court says Time magazine wins Suharto case

By Olivia Rondonuwu

JAKARTA, April 16 (Reuters) - Indonesia's Supreme Court has reversed a 1 trillion rupiah ($93 million) libel ruling against Time magazine over a story about ex-president Suharto, in a case seen as a key test of the country's legal system and freedom of speech.

Time's lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis, said the Supreme Court's decision showed the court respected the freedom of the press to cover issues of public interest.

"We hope that through this decision journalists can be free and comfortable to work in Indonesia," Lubis said.

Time, owned by Time Warner Inc, published a May 1999 cover story alleging that Suharto and his family had amassed a fortune of around $15 billion, including $9 billion transferred via Switzerland to an Austrian bank account.

"The story in Time magazine is still within the press code of conduct so it is not acting against the law," Hatta Ali, a Supreme Court judge, said in statement published on the court's website.

Explaining the ruling, Ali told Reuters that Time had not breached press laws because it had given Suharto the right to respond.

In 2007, the Supreme court ordered Time to pay damages and print an apology for defaming Suharto, who died in 2008 aged 86.

The magazine filed a petition to Indonesia's Supreme Court in February 2008 to reverse the ruling.

Mohamad Assegaf, a Suharto family lawyer, said he was shocked by the court's decision, but added that the legal case could not be taken any further since it was the final legal avenue.

"We have repeatedly asked Time to prove its story that Suharto had transferred a huge amount of money to Swiss banks. We asked Time to prove it and it failed."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is seeking re-election on July 8, is credited with making some progress fighting endemic graft in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

But investors cite an unpredictable court system as a deterrent to investment. A survey by Indonesia's anti-corruption agency in February found the judiciary was the most graft-prone public institutions in Indonesia.

"It's an encouraging development but it's too soon to say that the judiciary as a whole is improving," said Kevin O'Rourke, a Jakarta-based political risk analyst.

Suharto ruled Indonesia for more than three decades until he was toppled in 1998 amid a financial crisis and economic collapse. Many members of his family and circle of friends won attractive contracts and deals during his rule.

Transparency International put Suharto's assets at between $15 billion and $35 billion, but he and his family have always denied any wrongdoing.

Suharto was charged with embezzling hundreds of million dollars after he left office, but the government later dropped the case because of his poor health.

(Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Jerry Norton/Sara Webb)


Indonesia's top court clears Time Magazine of charges of defaming ex-dictator Suharto

By NINIEK KARMINI Associated Press Writer

JAKARTA, April 16 (AP) - Indonesia's top court cleared Time Magazine of charges it had defamed former dictator Suharto in a cover story that alleged his family amassed billions of dollars during his decades-long rule.

The court said the publication did not have to pay $106 million in damages to his estate.

The ruling, which marks the end of the appeals process, was hailed as a victory for press freedom.

"We have been struggling to find justice for a decade now," said Todung Mulya Lubis, the magazine's lawyer. "It has been a long road."

Time ran a cover story in its Asian edition in May 1999 saying Suharto's family had pocketed billions of dollars during his 32-year rule -- the bulk of it from oil and mining, forestry, property, banking and petrochemicals -- and that they'd stashed much of the money overseas.

Lubis said the article was based on four months' reporting in 11 countries.

Suharto, who died last year at the age of 87, initially filed lawsuits against the magazine with the Central District Jakarta Court and later the Jakarta High Court, both of which ruled in Time's favor. But in August 2007, the country's top court overturned the decisions, prompting the magazine to demand a judicial review.

Supreme Court Judge Hatta Ali said Thursday the article "did not violate the law" or breach ethical standards.

He said Time owed no money to the Suharto family.

Suharto seized power in a 1965 coup that left up to half a million people dead. He ruled the country with an iron fist, killing or imprisoning hundreds of thousands of political opponents before he was ousted in a wave of street protests one decade ago.

He evaded prosecution on charges of embezzling state funds, with lawyers successfully arguing up until his death that he was too ill to stand trial. Neither was he ever tried for human rights abuses.

The Time article, titled "The Family Firm," alleged Suharto and his children amassed $73 billion, but that much of it was lost in the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

The magazine -- owned by Time Inc., a publishing division of media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. -- alleged the family transferred some money from Switzerland to Austria and still had at least $15 billion in 1999.

"I'm very glad," Atmakusuma Astraatmaja, a senior journalist and former head of Indonesia's Press Council, said after hearing about the court ruling. "This is a victory not just for Time but for press freedom in Indonesia."

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