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Tommy Suharto Sentenced To 18 Months Jail

by Richard S. Ehrlich

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The Supreme Court's sentencing of former president Suharto's youngest son to 18 months in jail for corruption, is the first time a Suharto family member has been convicted.

President Abdurrahman Wahid earlier demanded the arrest of Hutomo Mandala Putra, widely known by his nickname "Tommy," for involvement in several recent bomb blasts.

On Tuesday (September 26), the Supreme Court ruled Tommy was guilty in a 1995 real estate exchange deal worth 11.2 million US dollars, which involved government land and money.

Widely despised for flaunting his wealth and for alleged involvement in unscrupulous business practices, Tommy was estimated to be worth 800 million US dollars, with businesses in Indonesia, the United States, New Zealand and Nigeria, plus 22 luxury apartments in England.

Tommy's ironically named Humpuss Conglomerate, boasts large holdings in an estimated 90 companies, spanning petroleum exploration, natural gas, medicine, construction and shipping.

He enjoyed cruising Jakarta's grimy, trash-strewn streets in a glistening blue Rolls-Royce, and other automobiles from his expensive collection. His four million US dollar yacht was kept in an Australian harbor.

In 1993, Tommy reportedly spent 40 million US dollars to become majority shareholder in Lamborghini, the Italian luxury car manufacturer.

His father awarded him a tax-free monopoly to build Indonesia's national "Timor" car, but the International Monetary Fund stripped him of that asset in 1998 as part of an aid package.

He was also forced to give up his lucrative monopoly on cloves which are mixed with tobacco in Indonesia's widely popular, sweet cigarettes.

The flamboyant Tommy dated several Indonesian actresses and beauty queens before marrying in 1997.

Tommy's lawyer, Nudirman Munir, said he would request a review of the Supreme Court's conviction because "the ruling is unfair, as there was no evidence to prove my client caused losses to the state."

In October 1998, Tommy was acquitted of the same charges, but the Supreme Court overturned that ruling.

Tommy's business associate, Ricardo Galael, was also sentenced to 18 months in jail for his role in the land swap deal.

The case focused on a supermarket chain which Tommy controlled, called PT Goro, and a government food agency known as Bulog.

Corruption is so widespread in Indonesia that one of the judges hearing the case had to be suspended after being named as a suspect in a separate 23,000 US dollar bribery case.

Tommy, in his late 30s, remains free pending a decision on his review request.

His father Suharto, meanwhile, is widely suspected of stealing billions of US dollars during a repressive, US-backed, 32-year reign and channeling much of the cash into the pockets of his six adult children.

Suharto was toppled by student-led protests in 1998 and remains a recluse in his plush home in central Jakarta.

Many Indonesians are extremely resentful toward Suharto, and his six "greedy" children who dominated businesses across this Equatorial archipelago.

President Wahid recently suggested Tommy was involved in several bombings in Jakarta, supposedly to force an end to Suharto's ongoing trial, in which the ex-dictator is accused of stealing 570 million US dollars from government charity organizations.

The 79-year-old former president, however, describes himself as too demented and diseased to attend his trial, due to several strokes and other illnesses.

The trial was scheduled to hold a third hearing on Thursday September 28.

Tommy meanwhile denied involvement in the bombings, but quickly turned himself in on September 16.

Police released Tommy the same day, claiming there was no evidence linking him to any explosions.

As a result, the stroke-crippled, nearly blind Wahid -- who is blamed for an inability to rule Indonesia -- was further embarrassed by his clumsy interference in the police investigation.

Stung by Tommy's release from police custody, however, Wahid replaced the national police chief.

The new national police chief then arrested several military men and others for exploding a car bomb in the Jakarta Stock Exchange building on September 13 which killed 15 people.

Police said many of the detained suspects hail from rebel-torn Aceh province in northwest Indonesia. It was not immediately clear if the bombing was linked to long-running violent demands for oil-rich Aceh's independence.

Indonesia's media is meanwhile keeping the spotlight on Tommy for possible involvement in the recent bombings which appeared to coincide with the schedule of Suharto's trial.

For example, the respected magazine Tempo splashed Tommy's face on its latest cover, gazing at bright red dynamite sticks wired to a timing device.

The headlined asked, "Bomb at the JSX (Jakarta Stock Exchange). Is He Behind the Bomb?"

The magazine reported, "Suharto and his family may be completely unconnected with bloody bombings."

Nevertheless, the Suharto family are vulnerable in a way similar to the late American gangster Al Capone, "who ended his days in jail over something that appeared unimportant and trivial -- he forgot to pay his taxes."

A similar approach could be used to jail the Suhartos, Tempo added.

"Don't they all still have massive debts to the state? And has not the Supreme Court ruled that those whose debts to the government are above one billion rupiah (120,000 US dollars) can be jailed?

"The answers are: yes and yes."

The report concluded, "It would be far easier to simply put the (Suharto) family and their cronies in jail over their debts."



richard s. ehrlich asia correspondent jakarta, indonesia phone (62 21) 391 3830 ext 307, fax (62 21) 324 641

website, asia news, books, film and links:
(updated september 18, 2000)

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