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Indonesia's Suharto trial to resume; son still eludes arrest

Indonesian youths stand by the front gates of Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra's house in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday  

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) -- An Indonesian court on Wednesday ruled that a corruption trial against former President Suharto, dropped on the grounds the frail ex-despot was too ill, should resume.

The ruling should come as a relief to the beleaguered government, widely ridiculed for its bungling efforts to bring the disgraced former leader, his family and cronies to book for abuses during Suharto's 32-year iron rule.

The government is acutely embarrassed by its latest failure, to capture Suharto's youngest son, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandela Putra, who is on the run from an 18-month jail sentence for graft.

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Tommy's conviction is the first of any member of the Suharto family which amassed a fortune during the former president's reign.

"Jakarta's High Court has revoked a ruling by the south Jakarta court...and ordered the court to reopen the trial," said Chief Judge I Gde Sudarto, referring to the case against the elder Suharto.

In September, the south Jakarta court dropped the graft trial against the former president, saying he was too ill.

That decision sparked a public uproar and further dented President Abdurrahman Wahid's credibility, already in tatters over his failure to end the political and economic strife that has plagued his tumultuous one year in power as the country's first democratically elected leader.

The 79-year-old Suharto, who has suffered three strokes, had previously been charged with embezzling $550 million from charities he controlled during his long reign, which ended in chaos in 1998.

The economic successes of Suharto's rule were marred by rampant corruption and human rights abuses for which there is strong public demand for some sort of retribution.

In the last few days the government has been the subject of ridicule over its efforts, verging on farce, to capture Tommy.

Police on Wednesday raided the Suharto family estate in central Jakarta. The search, announced to the public the previous day, proved fruitless.

"Tommy was not found and we will continue our efforts to search for him helped by the police," South Jakarta attorney-general's office chief Antasari Azhar told reporters.

He said the hunt would be extended throughout Indonesia.

Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman has ordered police to arrest Tommy, sentenced to jail for an $11 million land scam. Wahid has now ordered Darusman to report every two hours.

Tommy has been missing since Friday, when prosecutors banged on the gates of his empty house to take him to Cipinang jail, where his father held, and sometimes executed, dissidents and critics during his harsh rule.

"Where's Tommy?" is the question on everyone's lips as they follow what has become Indonesia's most gripping soap opera, charting the downfall of a once all-powerful and rich family.

The Suhartos -- who became the equivalent to a royal family during the former president's autocratic rule -- remain strong and have powerful allies, including government officials, as they fight to survive the onslaught of recriminations over years of misrule and keep Tommy out of jail.

Tommy's chief lawyer, Nudirman Munir, said the wealthy businessman and former playboy had been threatened with death and sodomy in jail and would not go to prison until authorities could guarantee his safety.

The chief warder, Takasiliang, has guaranteed the 38-year-old Tommy's safety, but said he will get no special treatment.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ASIANOW


RELATED STORIES:
Search is on for Indonesian fugitive Tommy Suharto
November 7, 2000
Former Indonesian dictator's son stays in hiding
November 6, 2000
Suharto's son stays in hiding as lawyers use stalling tactics
November 5, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Government of Indonesia
AsianNet, Indonesia On-Line
Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights


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