This was in the South China Morning Post yesterday, p. A13

‘Tommy’ Suharto’s release puts
justice system back in the dock



Corrupt officials have allowed the
youngest son of Indonesia’s former
dictator to lead a charmed life, even
in prison, writes Fabio Scarpello


In Indonesia, it would seem that if your surname is Suharto, you can literally get away with murder. The latest evidence is Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra Suharto, 44, the former dictator’s youngest son who walked out of jail on Monday, five years after he was sentenced to 15 years for ordering
the killing of Supreme Court judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, who was shot dead in broad daylight in July 2001.In September 2000, Syafiuddin had dared to sentence Mr Hutomo to 18months in jail for defrauding the state of US$10.7 million by swapping a tract ofmarshy land for a prime site belonging to the National Logistics Agency. According to the testimony of Mr Hutomo’s former wife, Ardhia Pramesti Regita Cahyani, the judge had previously made the mistake of turning down a US$20,000 bribe and ignoring threats of violence.

The first member of the Suharto family to have been convicted for corruption fled before starting his sentence, and the killing of the judge took place while he was a fugitive. After a year on the run, he was arrested and put on trial.

When in September 2002 he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for Syafiuddin’s murder, many thought justice had been served and Indonesia was on the right track. But from the initial sentence to the opening of the doors of Cipinang prison last Monday, Mr Hutomo’s affair with the Indonesian legal system has shown that the country’s justice is still too arbitrary to be trusted, and the Suharto family is still too hot to be handled.

In the first place, although Indonesia’s criminal code mandates a life sentence or death penalty for anyone convicted of arranging murder, Mr Hutomo’s sentence was inexplicably reduced to 10 years by the Supreme Court.

Then, helping him along the way to freedom was Indonesia’s generous – and very subjective – remissions system, under which sentences can be cut on such occasions as National Day or the end of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan. In total, he saw 31 months shaved off his sentence for good behaviour.

After all the maths, it works out that MrHutomo has served two-thirds of his sentence, which makes him eligible to be released on parole “under the supervision of his family”, as a prison official has been quoted as saying.

However, this family reunion has angered activists and depressed analysts, who considered the case a test for Indonesia’s Reformasi, as the post-Suharto renewal movement was called. A test, they say, the country has failed miserably. “It is a disaster. For Reformasi, this is as bad as it gets,” said Wimar Witoelar, spokesman of former president Abdurrahman Wahid.

“It is a manifestation of what has been going wrong and what is still wrong. Bad guys are resourceful, they have funds, they have friends – and they always find a way out,” he added.

That Mr Hutomo has money and powerful friends is a well-known fact that he openly displays.
According to a Time magazine investigation, during his father’s 32-year regime from 1966 to 1998, the Cendana – as the family is collectively known – gained money and assets worth US$73.24 billion. Mr Hutomo’s slice of the pie was estimated at US$800 million.

During this period, all Indonesia’s powerful men were part of the Cendana’s inner circle, and while millions of Indonesians struggled just to get food, Mr Hutomo flaunted his wealth, leading a life of excesses that included a string of fancy cars, high-profile flings with beauty queens and actresses, and frequent trips around the world. His connections with the powerful continued after the fall of his father’s regime and were shamelessly flaunted even during his brush with justice.
It started the day he was arrested, which was rather farcical. Although he had been a fugitive for a year, it was not the police who appeared before the press, but a relaxed and handcuff-less Mr Hutomo, who was warmly embraced by Jakarta’s then-police chief, Sofjan Jacoeb.

It continued during the trial. Activists remember with horror how when presiding judge Amiruddin Zakaria asked: “Were you often at your own home on Jalan Cendana?” Mr Hutomo answered:
“Yes, I was often there.” And when a flabbergasted Judge Zakaria exclaimed: “Oh my God! But you never got caught, did you?” Mr Hutomo explained “there was co-ordination with the apparatus”.

He was also treated with kid gloves in prison, where he enjoyed a far more luxurious cell than those of his roughly 2,500 fellow prisoners, some of whom once threatened to sodomise him.

It was reported that his cell was completely fenced off from the other inmates. It included a private bathroom, a large television, cell phones and air-conditioning, which created conducive conditions for his frequent five-hour conjugal visits. That stopped in September, when a Jakarta court granted his wife her request for divorce and custody of their two children. It also seems fairly certain that he oiled the wheels to get the remissions, as suggested by Jakarta Legal Institute director Asifinawati, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name.
“He paid people to get remissions. It is common knowledge that our detention system is corrupt. If you check the remissions of corruptors, sometimes they even go over the legally allowed [limit]. They break the law,” she said. “It also shows that there is discrimination. I doubt a peasant would have got all those months wiped off his sentence.” Yuntho Emerson, head of Indonesia Corruption Watch’s law division, agreed. “It shows an obvious pattern of corruption. You can either bribe the judge to lower your sentences or you can bribe the prison chief to be released earlier. Or you can do both,” he said.

“This case will set another bad precedent. The unusually high remissions and the easy manner in which they are obtained mean that corrupters will not be scared to commit crimes, as they know they can get away with it. “Law enforcement is a key indicator of Reformasi and it would seem that the objectives of the movement are still very far away,” he added. Mr Hutomo’s case follows the dropping of the corruption case against his father. The former dictator, who was accused of having embezzled a minimum of US$600 million, was let off the hook on very debatable medical grounds last May.

It also follows the discharge in October of Pollycarpus Priyanto, the only person charged for the murder of Indonesia’s foremost human rights activist, Munir Said Thalib, who was poisoned aboard a Garuda flight to Amsterdam in September
2004. Munir’s work was primarily aimed at exposing corruption and illegal activities committed by the military, another institution considered “untouchable” in Indonesia.
Reformers believe that top military officials were behind the murder.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered new investigations into the Munir murder case and has legislated to limit the remissions. According to the new law – which should come into force next January – corrupters, drug dealers and terrorists will have to serve at least a third of their sentences before being eligible for discounts.

However, Mrs Asifinawati believes that the president’s legal move will prove to be insufficient.
“Those guilty of certain crimes, like corruption, should not get any remission; that is the only way to eradicate this cancer,” she said, adding that Indonesia was consistently rated among the world’s most corrupt countries.
Mr Witoelar, on the other hand, wished Dr Susilo more courage and a place in history. “It is a shame that Yudhoyono is so cautious. He has a huge people mandate. He is a clean former general who has nothing to hide. He should take a stand in cases like these,” he said. “In the short term, this would create him problems as Suharto’s money is still around and the former dictator is still very influential. But in the long term, his stand would ensure him a place in history.
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