J A K A R T A, Indonesia, Aug. 3, 2000 -- The Indonesian Attorney General’s office formally charged disgraced former PresidentSuharto 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 rulewhether or not we might be able to use compulsory measures tomake him appear,” Darusman told BBC television.
Asked by Reuters whether the ailing Suharto had been chargedwith graft, Yushar Yahya, spokesman for the Attorney General’sOffice, said: “Yes, it is related to corruption.
“Suharto’s status, as of today, is as an accused,” headded. “There will be a team of prosecutors, and they willmake 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 thecharges. Some officials said he could face a maximum sentence of life in prisonlife.
Suharto steered Indonesia through three decades of rapideconomic growth and stability and then watched his work unravelin a matter of months.
He was forced to step down on May 21, 1998, during a savageeconomic downturn, mass protests against his rule and anexplosion of deadly rioting in Jakarta.
The benefits of the 32 years under Suharto’s iron fist havenow been mostly forgotten and the era is mainly remembered forits massive corruption and human rights abuses.
Critics have labeled the charges against Suharto, who isaccused of misusing up to $550 million from seven charities hecontrolled while in power, as inadequate.
Suharto and his family have been accused of corruptlyamassing a $45 billion fortune during his presidency. The formerstrongman and his family have denied any wrongdoing.
Normally, the Attorney General’s office would submit allevidence and the suspect to the Jakarta Prosecutor’s Office.
But because of Suharto’s poor health, the files were handedover to prosecutors at his sprawling bungalow in central Jakartawhere the former army general has been held under house arrestfor two months.
Suharto suffered a stroke last year and was alsohospitalized for another ailment.
Suharto’s Lawyers Plead Health
Suharto’s lawyers demanded again today that the charges bedropped for health reasons.
“A person who cannot explain his thoughts should not be puton trial,” lawyer Muhamad Assegaf told reporters. Anotherlawyer, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said Suharto had been notifiedabout the corruption charges laid against him.
“He knows about the change of status from being a suspectto an accused,” Tampubolon said.
He said the authorities had extended Suharto’s house arrestorder for another 20 days without a strong legal basis.
Officials had also previously said Suharto would not beformally charged until an indictment was read in court.
Suharto’s lawyers accuse the government of PresidentAbdurrahman Wahid of using the case to deflect attention aheadof a meeting of the top legislature next week, where the Muslimcleric will account for his rocky first year in office.
Wahid, who has ordered informal talks withSuharto’s family to try to arrange the return of any ill-gottenwealth, has said he would pardon Suharto if the former president is convicted.
Today, a small protest demanding an immediate trialfor the former autocrat broke out near Suharto’s house.
Shouting “Hang Suharto!,” about 200 stick-wieldingstudents marched toward Suharto’s house and later moved to another partof the city, watched by some 300 riot police.
The central Jakarta area where Suharto lives has seenrepeated protests demanding the prosecution of the former leader.