Wed, 24 May 2000

Court set to decide on Soeharto vs 'Time' soon

JAKARTA (JP): After a series of hearings, lawyers from both parties in the Soeharto versus Time case handed over their conclusions to the judges on Tuesday.

Each of them stood by their previous positions.

As in the earlier hearings, Time lawyers insisted that the May 24, 1999 cover story in the New York-based weekly did not defame the country's former president.

On the other side, Soeharto's lawyers asserted that the magazine ran a groundless report involving their client, but was still unable to come up with evidence that would substantiate their claim.

After hearing conclusions from the two disputing parties, the panel of judges -- presided over by judge Sihol Sitompul -- told the courtroom at the Central Jakarta District Court that they would read the verdict on the case on June 6.

Todung Mulya Lubis, one of Time's lawyers, told reporters after the hearing that, "Four expert witnesses have testified that the story was written within the universal standards of journalism. So there's nothing defamatory or slanderous about the report.

"Therefore, the lawsuit was baseless. Besides, the fact that Soeharto is now under city arrest only strengthens the allegations of collusion, corruption and nepotism (KKN)," Todung added.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Assegaff, a lawyer for the former strongman, said he was optimistic about wining the legal battle.

"Since the first trial session, Time could not show proof that there had been illegal money transfers from a Swiss bank to several banks in Austria," he said.

"In our opinion, any and all articles in a journalistic periodical should represent the truth. And Time was unable to prove that the transfer of money ever took place," he added.

Along with Assegaf and Todung, also present in the court was Todung's partner, Lelyana Santosa, from the law firm Lubis, Santosa & Maulana.

Assegaf mocked Todung's conclusion report, which is entitled The free press is on trial.

"Well, ours has yet to be named, but I'm thinking of calling it 'Trial by the press'. Because it's what this trial is all about," the senior lawyer said.

Responding to Assegaf's comment, Todung said it was nonsense.

"A trial is conducted by a court of law, not by the media. We decided to give our report The free press is on trial title because the defendant in this case is not only Time magazine but freedom of the press in general," he said.

Soeharto filed the lawsuit against the magazine in July last year.

He is demanding that the magazine pay him Rp 189 trillion (US$27 billion) in damages for suggesting in its articles that he and his family amassed a $15 billion fortune during his 32-year reign. (09)