Indonesia to Probe Suharto's Finances
By Cindy Shiner
JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 1Indonesian authorities have ordered a probe into former President Suharto's wealth, following mounting calls for an investigation into the corrupt business practices that characterized his 32-year rule.
Attorney General Sudjono Atmonegoro told reporters that an investigator had been assigned to look into Suharto's riches but noted that the probe would "need some time because it involves many documents."
He said Suharto would be summoned if irregularities were found but was entitled to presumption of innocence by the investigators.
Today was the first sign that authorities might be prepared to make Suharto legally accountable for the corruption, cronyism and nepotism that defined his New Order government. Whereas those practices used to be the rule here, nearly everyone now is climbing on the reform bandwagon to escape the scrutiny of demonstrators and reporters who are enjoying a freedom of expression never experienced under Suharto.
Since he resigned nearly two weeks ago, government agencies and private companies have been scrambling to dump contracts linked to the Suharto family.
The government plans to review special tax breaks given to companies linked to him; the state oil and gas company Pertamina is registering all of its contractors and suppliers who have connections to the family; state port management authorities have canceled four service contracts with a company owned by Suharto's youngest son; and the national police is reviewing a contract with Suharto's eldest daughter to process driver's license applications after announcing that her dealings were riddled with corruption.
In the most obvious sign yet of the unraveling of the Suharto empire, the country's largest bank, Bank Central Asia, has been placed under the state bank restructuring agency because of a run on its deposits. It is owned partly by Suharto's daughter, son and crony Liem Sioe Liong of the Salim Group, a financial conglomerate.
Forbes Magazine lists Suharto as one of the wealthiest people in the world, with a personal fortune estimated at $16 billion. The magazine says his family's combined wealth totals about $40 billion -- nearly the same amount the International Monetary Fund has been trying to pump into Indonesia to save its economy for the past eight months. The payments were initially suspended because of Suharto's reluctance to implement economic reforms, but were then put on hold because of the country's political crisis.
Opposition leader Amien Rais has called for Suharto to donate to Indonesia any wealth that he might have amassed illegally so the country would not be forced to "beg" for foreign assistance.
"If he could do that, then, God willing, maybe the Indonesian people could find it in their hearts to pardon him," the Jakarta Post quoted Rais as saying.
Rais has also called for a travel ban to be imposed on Suharto and his family. Officials said today they had received assurances that they would not leave the country.
Some Indonesians were immediately skeptical about whether the probe announced today would be sincere because the attorney general had been a Suharto appointee. New President B.J. Habibie, Suharto's protege and successor, retained him in the cabinet.
"I have a doubt that the attorney general will do it seriously but it very much depends on the pressure that other sectors of the society will push," said Umar Juoro, an economist with the Center for Information and Development Studies, a think tank for Muslim intellectuals close to President Habibie.
He said even Habibie himself would not escape an investigation if there were reason for such a move.
"We don't want to be partial," Juoro said. "We want to create a system that applies for everybody, whether it's Suharto, whether its Habibie, whether it's other ministers, or whatever. There should be investigations and then, after that, if it gets revealed what the misuse of power is, we may ask the people to give back wealth to the states."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company