Fri, 29 Sep 2000

All charges against Soeharto dismissed

JAKARTA (JP): The South Jakarta District Court dropped on Thursday multimillion-dollar graft charges against former president Soeharto after hearing medical arguments from an independent team of doctors that he was mentally and physically unfit to stand trial.

The court also released the defendant from his city arrest status.

"The court orders the case's registration number to be scratched from the court's criminal case registers," presiding judge Lalu Mariyun, who is also chief of the South Jakarta District Court, said.

"The ruling is primarily based on facts produced by a total of 60 doctors from three different teams who have examined the defendant, deeming him permanently unfit to stand trial," judge Soemarno said.

Soeharto, 79, who resigned as president in May 1998, failed to attend Thursday's hearing. He was a no-show at two previous sessions due to ill health. The initial hearing was on Aug. 31 this year.

Soeharto was accused of stealing US$571 million from the state by funneling money from seven charity foundations he chaired into the businesses belonging to his family and cronies.

Prosecutor Muchtar Arifin told the hearing he would appeal to the Jakarta High Court.

The South Jakarta District Court is notorious for controversial rulings, including the decision to exonerate Soeharto's son, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, who was involved in a fraudulent land exchange deal, and businessman Djoko S. Tjandra, the primary suspect in the Rp 546 billion Bank Bali scandal.

After the hearing, Soeharto's defense lawyer Assegaf said his client, who had suffered three strokes, would never have to face court in his lifetime.

"His ailing status is permanent, as has been proven by the doctors in court. How can he ever be tried?" Assegaf said.

Chief of the South Jakarta Prosecutor's Office, Antasari Azhar, said his office would file an appeal within a week.

"In our appeal, we'll try to get the judges to visit the defendant at his residence and see for themselves, or push for the court to get the Supreme Court to issue a decree on the continuance of the trial without the defendant's presence (in court)."

Teten Masduki, coordinator of Indonesian Corruption Watch, agreed: "The Supreme Court should issue a decree for an in- absentia trial," Teten said.

The hearing was brought alive when Marlina S. Mahajudin, a psychiatrist from the Surabaya-based Airlangga University's School of Medicine, testified.

Marlina, a member of the 24-member medical team, gave the final word on Soeharto's health. She said the former army general scored 65 out of 100 percent, a moderate score, in physical tests such as eating, washing and going up and down stairs by himself.

"He is however senile due to strokes. His speech is disturbed and he cannot give detailed descriptions," Marlina said.

She said he reacted to her questions with rises in blood pressure and heartbeat rate.

When asked whether he felt whether he was useless, he bowed his head and said "Allah".

"His family has restricted him from watching Ketoprak Humor (a comedy sketch show) and traditional wayang puppet shows which he watches with an empty stare in his eyes."

"His verbal responses are limited to short sentences. He can't repeat what one says very well. I had to repeat 'I am ... buying ... a mango' very slowly for him to repeat it," she said.

She also said he had a very short attention span, so much so that if someone interrupted a person asking him a question, he would forget it.

Marlina said Soeharto had failed comprehension tests given to high school and elementary school students, which showed that he had a very bad memory.

"I asked him to draw for a person, and he drew this, in 60 seconds," she said, pulling out a drawing of what looked like a distorted keyhole.

Separately, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman confirmed that the South Jakarta Prosecutor's Office would appeal to the Jakarta High Court, saying that the district court's decision was against the justice expected by the people.

"During the session, the government prosecutor proposed the panel of justices check Soeharto's health in his residence but they ignored it," he said, after attending a meeting with ministers under the coordination of the coordinating minister for political, social and security affairs here on Thursday.

"The prosecutor also proposed that the district court hold an in-absentia trial for Soeharto or that the court allows the Attorney General's Office to bring the defendant to hospital for treatment at the government's cost, but none of them were endorsed," he added.

House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung said the court's decision to drop the charges should be respected as it was issued upon the recommendation of an independent team of doctors.

"If Soeharto physically can't undergo the legal process, how can we force him.

"The public should accept the reality," Akbar, who is also chairman of the Golkar Party, said.

He said the nation should now focus on the recent Supreme Court's decision to sentence Tommy, Soeharto's son, to 18-months in prison. (jun/rms/ylt)