Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Calls grow for trial of Soeharto despite state of health

JAKARTA (JP): The investigation and possible trial of former president Soeharto for alleged corruption during his 32 years in power must go forward despite claims that he is physically unfit, observers said over the weekend.

"This is not about taking revenge, but seeking truth and justice. The government must be able to prove that no one is above the law," human rights activist Hendardi told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

"A political pardon can only be given to Soeharto if all of his past wrongdoings have already been legally settled. He can not just get away like that," Hendardi said.

Soeharto has been summoned by the Attorney General's Office to appear for questioning on Monday, but lawyers representing the 78-year-old former president officially informed the office last week that their client was too sick to answer the summons.

The Attorney General's Office, however, is insisting that Soeharto appear, saying the former president "has so far been able to travel" and therefore was considered healthy enough to be questioned.

Officials said the summons was issued because new evidence warranted the resumption of the investigation of the former ruler.

The officials said the new evidence pointed to "a misuse of power and authority" in issuing government regulations and presidential decrees to amass funds for foundations linked to Soeharto, his family and associates.

Noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid shared Hendardi's opinion, saying that bringing Soeharto to justice would send a clear message to the public that no one was above the law.

"If Soeharto is eventually found guilty, he should then be punished so the country can learn a lesson and not repeat the same mistakes in the future," Nurcholish said.

When asked whether a political pardon would be appropriate for Soeharto, Nurcholish said: "Mistakes can be easily forgiven by God as long as they are personal, but if the sins are already known by the public, there should be punishment."

Since Soeharto stepped down from the presidency in May 1998, there has been a public outcry demanding he be put on trial for alleged corruption during his rule.

However, the Attorney General's Office, after months of investigation, found no evidence of wrongdoing and the investigation was halted in October during the last week of B.J. Habibie's presidency.

After being appointed attorney general, Marzuki Darusman announced in December that he was reopening the investigation into Soeharto's alleged graft.

Meanwhile, sociopolitical observer Mulyana W. Kusumah said Soeharto should be examined by doctors appointed by the Attorney General's Office to determine whether the former president was too sick to be questioned.

"Recommendations from Soeharto's medical team cannot be accepted since they will give recommendations which are favorable to the former president," Mulyana said.

The spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, Soehandoyo, has said that prosecutors will cross-check and coordinate with Soeharto's medical team in determining the president's health.

Forbes magazine has listed the wealth of the Soeharto family, whose investments run to real estate, banking, oil, toll roads and forestry, at four billion dollars.

Soeharto, who has repeatedly denied allegations that he amassed a fortune during his reign, was hospitalized twice last year after suffering a stroke and intestinal bleeding. (byg/emf/jun)