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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

CHASING AFTER THE PAST

Any actions could be fraught with hazards


Return to Main Story

The Military On political maneuvers

Habibie Inc. The new president's family values

Economy Many problems need fixing

Fortunes and Failings Suharto's Legacy

Students Chalk it up to youthful exuberance

YES, SOME INDONESIANS are calling for Suharto's head. But for now, most would probably be satisfied with his money. And that of his family, friends and hangers-on. Having long watched those with the right connections grow rich from sweetheart deals and special concessions, many Indonesians are in no mood to let them get away with their ill-gotten gains.

Under scrutiny are Suharto's children, as well as close business allies such as Liem Sioe Liong (a.k.a. Sudono Salim) and Mohamad "Bob" Hasan. To their credit, most of these big beneficiaries of the New Order have not tried to flee Jakarta with their money. Liem is reportedly in California for medical treatment, but his spokesman says he will be returning. Hasan and Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana ("Tutut"), both of whom had served in Suharto's last cabinet, were present to hand over their positions to their successors.

The busy and beleaguered Habibie government has yet to formally appoint a group to look into the Suharto fortune, but already the tide is turning. Suharto's half-brother Probosutedjo recently said that the former president's children "will become ordinary entrepreneurs without privileges."

You bet. Local newspapers reported that on May 23 the Jakarta city government revoked a cooperative agreement with two companies to manage the capital's water system; one of the firms is owned by Liem, the other controlled by Suharto's eldest son Sigit Harjojudanto. Four days later, Liem's foreign partner, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, said it had not received any notification of termination from the authorities.

Later, Minister of Mines and Energy Kuntoro Mangkusubroto announced there would be a review of the exclusive contracts between state oil giant Pertamina and companies run by two of Suharto's sons. Under the arrangement, Tommy Suharto and Bambang Trihatmodjo had taken a cut from any import or export deals made by Pertamina. Suharto Inc.'s foreign partners - many of which are multinationals - will also be affected. The backlash is coming from the grassroots as well. During the riots, looters targeted the ATM machines of Indonesia's largest private bank, Bank Central Asia, which is 70% owned by Liem and 30% by Sigit and Tutut. When the bank resumed regular business, there were long lines of customers seeking to withdraw their money.

The government is reluctant to launch a full-scale witch hunt - and for good reasons. As in post-Marcos Philippines, not only does Jakarta have to untangle the complicated web of offshore and onshore interests, but it has to prove the money the cronies earned rightly belongs to Indonesia. The effort requires almost full-time attention from lawyers, bureaucrats, accountants and businesspeople, something scarce at a time of crumbling banks, a collapsing economy and turbulent politics.

Another problem is that many of those in power now were part of the cronyism and nepotism of the New Order. Should there be a thorough investigation, says business analyst Christianto Wibisono, "the whole regime will be implicated." Any sweeping action could further roil the economy, since the cronies have their fingers in every facet of business.

Wibisono's solution is to: set a deadline for reporting one's misdeeds, investigate them, impose a fine and then issue a pardon. Many Indonesians may feel this would not go far enough in punishing the fat cats. But going further could well mean a cure as painful as the disease.

- By Sangwon Suh, with bureau reporting


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