The Indonesian Attorney General’s office formally charged disgraced former President Suharto with corruption, bringing the one-time despot closer to court.
Attorney General Marzuki Darusman later insisted that the frail 79-year-old Suharto must face trial despite arguments by the ex-president’s lawyers that he is too ill.
“If he doesn’t appear in court, then the court will rule whether or not we might be able to use compulsory measures to make him appear,” Darusman told BBC television.
Asked by Reuters whether the ailing Suharto had been charged with graft, Yushar Yahya, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said: “Yes, it is related to corruption.
“Suharto’s status, as of today, is as an accused,” he added. “There will be a team of prosecutors, and they will make the indictment, which will be read in the court.”
A trial is expected to start this month.
It was unclear what jail term Suharto — who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name — could face over the charges. Some officials said he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison life.
Suharto steered Indonesia through three decades of rapid economic growth and stability and then watched his work unravel in a matter of months.
He was forced to step down on May 21, 1998, during a savage economic downturn, mass protests against his rule and an explosion of deadly rioting in Jakarta.
The benefits of the 32 years under Suharto’s iron fist have now been mostly forgotten and the era is mainly remembered for its massive corruption and human rights abuses.
Critics have labeled the charges against Suharto, who is accused of misusing up to $550 million from seven charities he controlled while in power, as inadequate.
Suharto and his family have been accused of corruptly amassing a $45 billion fortune during his presidency. The former strongman and his family have denied any wrongdoing.
Normally, the Attorney General’s office would submit all evidence and the suspect to the Jakarta Prosecutor’s Office.
But because of Suharto’s poor health, the files were handed over to prosecutors at his sprawling bungalow in central Jakarta where the former army general has been held under house arrest for two months.
Suharto suffered a stroke last year and was also hospitalized for another ailment.
Suharto’s Lawyers Plead Health
Suharto’s lawyers demanded again today that the charges be dropped for health reasons.
“A person who cannot explain his thoughts should not be put on trial,” lawyer Muhamad Assegaf told reporters. Another lawyer, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said Suharto had been notified about the corruption charges laid against him.
“He knows about the change of status from being a suspect to an accused,” Tampubolon said.
He said the authorities had extended Suharto’s house arrest order for another 20 days without a strong legal basis.
Officials had also previously said Suharto would not be formally charged until an indictment was read in court.
Suharto’s lawyers accuse the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid of using the case to deflect attention ahead of a meeting of the top legislature next week, where the Muslim cleric will account for his rocky first year in office.
Wahid, who has ordered informal talks with Suharto’s family to try to arrange the return of any ill-gotten wealth, has said he would pardon Suharto if the former president is convicted.
Today, a small protest demanding an immediate trial for the former autocrat broke out near Suharto’s house.
Shouting “Hang Suharto!,” about 200 stick-wielding students marched toward Suharto’s house and later moved to another part of the city, watched by some 300 riot police.
The central Jakarta area where Suharto lives has seen repeated protests demanding the prosecution of the former leader.