Fri, 30 Nov 2001

A new game in town

A new game started being played out as soon as Tommy Soeharto's year-long hide-and-seek caper came to an end on Wednesday. We don't know its name yet, but the circumstances of Tommy's arrest and its announcement by the police all suggest that this is just the beginning of yet another game.

Since we do not know the name of the game, we cannot predict its outcome. Ideally, justice should be the only game in town. Yet, somehow, we doubt that we are any closer to justice today.

Wednesday's announcement by Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sofjan Jacoeb that Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the businessman son of former president Soeharto, had been arrested was greeted with public skepticism. The public has every reason to be skeptical. This whole saga -- from Tommy's escape from the law last year to his arrest on Wednesday -- has been nothing but a charade. The police, whether wittingly or unwittingly, are all just cast members in the show.

We have yet to hear the full story and circumstances of the arrest and doubt that we will ever learn the truth. But even without this, the way police accorded privileges to "Mas Tommy" -- as those who seem to revere him like to address him -- have raised eyebrows about how kindly the law is treating a man who is supposed to be the most dangerous person in Indonesia. Lest we forget, Tommy is wanted not only in connection with a corruption case, but also with the murder of a senior judge and a series of bombings in Jakarta over the past year.

Yet, what the nation watched on Wednesday night through their television sets was a scene from "Return of the Prodigal Son" and not the arrest of a wanted man who has the potential to do extensive damage to the country. It was totally improper for Sofjan and other senior police officers to hug Tommy and give him a peck on the cheek, and later for the police chief to offer his own office for Tommy to receive his relatives and lawyers.

The media conference called by Sofjan to announce Tommy's arrest turned into a circus. The media became very much part of the circus, diligently recording every word that came out of Sofjan's mouth.

Besides lavishing praise on "Mas Tommy", who was seated next to him, for cooperating with the arresting officers, Sofjan turned the press conference into something of a public relations gimmick, highlighting the arrest as a major achievement for which he and his men would probably be richly rewarded. Coming on the eve of the appointment of a new National Police chief, many cynically view the arrest as something of a timely personal gift for the incoming chief, Insp. Gen. Da'i Bachtiar, which will also secure Sofjan's position.

It is worth reminding that Tommy's arrest is very late in coming. It is more a reflection of police incompetence than a major success, as Sofjan would have us believe. It was police incompetence that allowed Tommy to flee the law shortly after a court convicted him to 18 months imprisonment for corruption last year. It was police incompetence that allowed Tommy to escape on more than one occasion, even after they detected his whereabouts. And it was also police incompetence that led to the many as-yet unexplained bombings in Jakarta and other cities. And now that we learn that Tommy may have something to do with some of these bombings, the rest of the nation has suffered because of the police's incompetence.

Having said that, let's not underestimate Tommy and what he is capable of doing. The son of former president Soeharto is a man of many means. He has money and power, as well as friends and connections in high places, even if his father is no longer in power. This is a man with a huge capacity to cause damage or harm, if he wants to, or alternatively, to buy his way out of trouble.

The way he has eluded the law all this time is evidence of his power. The way the Supreme Court overturned his guilty verdict in relation to the corruption case, even after he had implied his guilt by seeking a presidential pardon, is another indication of his power. Although the court will still have to prove allegations that he ordered the July killing of M. Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, or the police allegations that he had a role in some of the recent bombings, they are nevertheless indicative of what this man is capable of.

It is not our intention to belittle the significance of Tommy's arrest. On the contrary, we feel he could provide clues to so many questions that have no answers to this day, whether it is about the way our judiciary works, how the law enforcement agencies, including the police, work, and about many unresolved major corruption cases.

Tommy's case will be a real test of the nation's commitment to reform. Handled properly, it could become the impetus to restart the national reform agenda. If the public is skeptical, that is because we have been deceived too many times before. Whatever new game is being played out following Tommy's arrest, we should postpone any celebrations until we see real justice upheld.