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Open But Not Shut
Are recent investigations about justice -- or about politics?

ALSO: Waiting for Wiranto

After two years of delays, false starts and even an outright cancellation, Indonesia's most-watched investigation is inching toward a conclusion. On May 19, Indonesia's attorney-general, Marzuki Darusman, announced that former president Suharto will be charged with corruption and abuse of power. The 78-year-old ex-ruler has been legally restrained from leaving the capital since the beginning of the month. On May 22, Darusman announced that the ex-president would be transferred to a state safe house to prevent further clashes between his security detail and protesters. Despite dithering on the economy and having to deny accusations of corruption within his circle, President Abdurrahman Wahid seems to have set a clear direction in at least one matter: exposing those responsible for past violations.

A Sampling Of Skeletons

Suharto: The ex-president will be charged before Aug. 10, the day the last renewal of Suharto's city arrest order expires. The contents of the charges have not been revealed, but the attorney-general's office has been scrutinizing the accounts of his charitable foundations.

East Timor: Former military chief Wiranto faced questioning on May 16 and 23 to explain the circumstances of the violence surrounding the territory's ballot. Twenty other officers have been named responsible.

Aceh: Two dozen low-ranking officers received jail terms of up to 10 years on May 18 for their role in the July 1999 killings at an Islamic boarding school in West Aceh. Their commander has deserted and remains missing.

July 27, 1996: Police have summoned former Jakarta military commanders over the raid on opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri's party headquarters. Most have passed the buck or pointed fingers at each other; a few speak of a high-up 'sponsor."

Tanjung Priok: In early May, the National Human Rights Commission summoned L.B. Murdani and former vice-president Try Sutrisno to answer questions about the 1984 killings of at least 50 Muslim protesters in Jakarta's port district. At the time, the former was armed forces chief and the latter Jakarta military commander.

Since Wahid took charge, Jakarta has broken out in a rash of investigations. The Suharto inquiry had been revived last December after being halted in early October under Wahid's predecessor B.J. Habibie. On May 18, 24 soldiers and one civilian were sentenced to prison for their part in a massacre last July of an Islamic teacher and his students in Aceh. Two days earlier, the attorney-general's office had questioned former military chief Wiranto for seven hours. He was among 21 officers identified in late January as responsible for the violence before, during and after East Timor's Aug. 30 referendum. Meanwhile, since mid-February the national police have been looking into the 1996 government-backed attack on the Jakarta headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) faction led by then-oppositionist and now Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri. The inquiry has produced a steady stream of prominent officers and other figures summoned for questioning. Because of the investigation, two PDI officials and the chief of the shadowy Pancasila Youth paramilitary organization have each spent at least one night in prison. And then there is the National Human Rights Commission inquiry into the 1984 shootings of Muslim protesters in Jakarta's port district of Tanjung Priok. Among those summoned: retired intelligence chief L.B. "Benny" Murdani and former vice president Try Sutrisno, respectively armed- forces chief and Jakarta garrison commander at the time.

Before he became president, Wahid had often spoken of his commitment to establishing the rule of law in Indonesia. But Wahid would not be Wahid if by making a philosophical point he did not also win a political advantage. The investigations largely involve Suharto and the military. They thus keep potential, and powerful, rivals occupied and off-balance. The day he was grilled over East Timor, Wiranto confirmed that he would resign his position as a minister in Wahid's cabinet. (Officially, the East Timor case had resulted only in his suspension not dismissal.) Despite his publicly stated intention to pardon Suharto in exchange for some of his family's allegedly ill-gotten assets, Wahid has been pressuring Darusman to go after the ex-president. In one recent meeting, says a source, Wahid chided the attorney-general for his inaction, pointing to his own decision to remove Wiranto. The president reportedly joked: Get him first - "the law can come later."

One criticism lobbed against the investigations is that they are intended more to assuage popular demands, or achieve political ends, than to institute real justice. "If they are really serious," says Joncy Jonacta Yani, one of the victims of the 1996 raid on Megawati's party, "then the police headquarters would be empty because everyone was involved." As soon as the Aceh verdict was announced, human-rights activists were asking why high-ranking officers such as the regional commander or even Wiranto were not asked what they knew about the murders. The inquiries, says Australia-based Indonesia observer Arief Budiman, are partly intended "to accommodate political pressure." The biggest obstacle, he says, is "the weakness of the government. The network of the old regime is still strong."

More alarming is the absence of any investigation into economic infractions. The same day Darusman announced he would bring charges against Suharto, his office revealed that it had stopped looking into the $1.18-billion Texmaco scandal. In December, Marimutu Sinivasan, the textile company's well-connected president-director, admitted to using millions of government pre-shipment credit to pay down debt and expand his business. As a result, exposure by state banks and the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency to Texmaco debt came to about $2 billion. In explaining the decision to halt the investigation, an official from Darusman's office said that "Texmaco has not been proven to have damaged state finances."

It is probably easier for Wahid to take the military to task, since there exists a broad, multipartisan consensus for getting the generals out of politics. But it is a lot harder for him and his government to bring to book businessmen and bad debtors, not least because many of them have been able to hang on to the money and assets that can be used to secure influence, as well as political or legal protection. Even in Wahid's investigation-mad Indonesia, justice may still depend on the right connections - and the right politics.

Waiting for Wiranto
These days, the former military chief spends his time at social occasions, where he appears relaxed and smiling. Only when he has to prepare for his defense in the East Timor case, says an aide, does his tension and stress surface. The current rounds of interrogation are the latest reason given by his staff why, despite an agreement three months ago to be interviewed by Asiaweek, Wiranto cannot confirm a time for a meeting.

The agreement concerned Asiaweek's March 3 issue, which featured an investigative report into accusations that a Wiranto rival, ex-special forces chief Prabowo Subianto, had masterminded the May 1998 riots that led to Suharto's downfall. Wiranto (pictured) said then that he would respond to our questions about his side of that story, as well as the violence surrounding the 1999 East Timor referendum. We reported this to our readers. But Wiranto has since been impossible to nail down. An aide says that Asiaweek's faxed list of detailed questions were used to help prepare him for expected trial cross-examination. Another assistant says that there is now a heap of requests for interviews from the press. None has been granted.

As for Prabowo, he has returned to Jakarta, though he says he still spends most of his time conducting business deals abroad. On May 9, he called a press conference to deny a comment by President Abdurrahman Wahid that he had killed 100 people in the province now called West Papua. Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman has urged the national police to launch an inquiry into the May riots. He says it is not fair to lay the entire responsibility on Prabowo, since others may have been involved. But the only way to really find out, he says, is to start an investigation.

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