Suharto Hit With $1.54 Billion Lawsuit

The Associated Press
Monday, July 9, 2007; 5:03 AM

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit Monday against former Indonesian dictator Suharto, seeking $1.54 billion in damages and funds allegedly stolen from the state during his 32 years in power.

"This is not a criminal case against corruption, but a civil lawsuit," public prosecutor Dachamer Munthe said. "We just want the money back. It could be used for the development of this country."

Court documents show prosecutors want Suharto, 86, to repay $441 million in allegedly stolen funds and $1.1 billion in damages.

The money allegedly was channeled from the Indonesian Central Bank through state-owned banks to a Suharto-headed fund called Yayasan Supersemar. The fund was said to finance education scholarships, but the money ended up going "to uncertain purposes," Munthe said.

Muhammad Assegaf, a member of Suharto's legal team, said the charges were "merely aimed at forcing Suharto to face the trial. The lawsuit is misaddressed because Suharto no longer chairs the foundations," he said.

The lawsuit enables the state to go after tens of billions of dollars that went missing during his regime. A judge will determine if there are sufficient grounds to proceed, although media reports this week said prosecutors have been unable to recover original documents needed to support their case.

Indonesia's court system is plagued with corruption, poorly trained staff and financial constraints.

Suharto was ousted in 1998 amid student protests and nationwide riots. In 2000, prosecutors charged him with embezzling $600 million, but he never saw the inside of court after his lawyers argued that a series of strokes had left him with irreversible brain damage. Critics say that case represented only a tiny fraction of the money he and his family stole.

Human rights groups say Suharto was one of the most brutal strongmen of the previous century, responsible for the murder of as many as a million Indonesians in an anti-communist purge in the 1960s, the deaths of around 183,000 East Timorese during two decades of occupation and a further 100,000 killings in West Papua.

His son, Tommy Suharto, was released from prison last year after serving five years out of a 15-year prison sentence for ordering the assassination of a Supreme Court judge.

© 2007 The Associated Press