Suharto children face uncertain future

By Aubrey Belford , Agence France-Presse

JAKARTA: The death of Suharto could see his children's ability to
evade justice threatened by a new vigor among Indonesia's elite to
pursue corruption charges against them, analysts say.

Suharto's six children are widely seen as representing the worst
excesses of cronyism during their late father's rule, rarely
eliciting the same affection the family's patriarch enjoyed among
many even after his fall from power.

Using family connections during the former president's 32-year rule,
the children amassed fortunes through an array of conglomerate
companies, allegedly through preferment for contracts, kickbacks and
bent regulations.

The family—including the elder Suharto—stole anywhere between $15
billion and $35 billion, according to a 2004 Transparency
International (TI) estimate.

The plunder ended with the dictator's popular overthrow in 1998,
which sent the children scuttling in the face of an anticorruption

But Suharto's death may free many in the country's elite—who felt a
sense of obligation to the "Father of Development"—to pursue
corruption cases, said Transparency International Indonesia head
Todung Mulya Lubis.

Among many political players, the attitude is "you have to have
respect toward the old man, but when the old man dies things
change," Lubis said.

Suharto's children have already taken steps to add legitimacy to
their business empires by selling off high-profile, controversial

But they remain vulnerable to a civil corruption case against their
father over alleged graft involving a national charity, Lubis said.

As possible heirs to their father, the children could find
themselves hit up for more than $1.4 billion in damages and returned
assets that the government is seeking, he added.

Suharto's youngest son and reputed favorite Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala
Putra left prison in 2006 after serving only five years of an
original 15-year sentence for ordering the assassination of a
Supreme Court judge.

Tommy is now at the center of several slow-moving corruption trials,
while eldest sister Siti Hardiyanti "Tutut" Rukmana is faring
better, with a probe into alleged kickbacks from a British arms firm
having fizzled out years ago.

The biggest remaining business player is brother Bambang Trihatmojo,
whose estimated wealth of $200 million puts him at 33rd place on
Forbes Asia's 2007 Indonesia rich list.

That figure is far down from his estimated $3 billion in a 1999 Time
magazine investigation into the family fortune.

But with corruption still rife in Indonesia, the death of Suharto
does not mean instant damnation for his children, said Arbi Sanit, a
lecturer at the University of Indonesia.

Tommy's fortunes in court, for instance, could still depend "on how
much money Tommy gives to the police and judges" Sanit said, while
agreeing that the former president's death has diluted much of their

Despite the increased legal pressure in Suharto's absence, the dynasty could paradoxically experience a political revival in the longer term, thanks to a dearth of talent among Indonesia's
uninspiring democratic leadership, Sanit said.

"That's the Indonesian reality. On the one side, the families of the old leaders have failings and big problems ... but the families [also] have the potential for leadership," he said.

According to Sanit, nostalgia for the booming years under Suharto before the 1997 Asian financial crisis could kick in as the public forgets the corruption of Suharto and his children.

But a critical stumbling block to any dynastic revival would be the fact that no Suharto child has enough popular appeal, according to Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association head Hendardi.

While Tutut may have had a chance in the past of entering politics—she had a run at president in the country's 2004 elections, but pulled the plug before official nominations—the moment has passed, with no natural support base behind Tutut or her siblings, Hendardi said.

"I am not sure that the children will make a political comeback. None of them show any political talent," he said.

Manila Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2008


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