Tue, 30 May 2000

Government puts Soeharto under house arrest

JAKARTA (JP): The government changed the arrest status of former president Soeharto, a suspect in an ongoing corruption investigation, from a city arrest to a house arrest on Monday.

The former despot is prohibited from leaving his Jl. Cendana residence for 14 days, which effectively means that he will mark his 79th birthday on June 8 within the confines of his Central Jakarta house.

The decision was made following a meeting between Attorney General Marzuki Darusman and President Abdurrahman Wahid at the State Palace.

Spokesman for the Attorney General's Office Yushar Yahya said the decision was taken to accelerate the investigation.

"We want to make sure Soeharto is in good health during questioning so that the investigation can be completed according to schedule," Yushar told journalists at his office.

Marzuki has promised that his office will complete the case against Soeharto before Aug. 10.

Yushar said the warrant for Soeharto's new status was signed by Director of Investigation Ris Pandapotan Sihombing and submitted on Monday.

Questioning the ailing Soeharto has proven difficult with doctors repeatedly stopping the process, citing his poor health.

He appeared to make some progress on Monday morning when he answered 25 questions in less than two hours.

Soeharto's lawyers criticized the government's decision.

Mohammad Assegaf said the imposition of house arrest had no legal basis. "To arrest someone who is in ill-health is beyond belief," he told The Jakarta Post by phone.

Another lawyer, Denny Kailimang, said the prosecutors did not say anything about the arrest during the morning questioning.

He said that lawyers Juan Felix Tampubolon and Indriyanto Seno Adji accepted the house arrest warrant on Soeharto's behalf with reservations when it was delivered to Jl. Cendana in the afternoon.

"Our client is sick. It's impossible for him to flee or to conceal evidence or to commit similar crimes. Moreover, he has never violated his city arrest," Denny said.

The government backtracked on an earlier plan to move Soeharto out of Jl. Cendana. The area has been besieged by student demonstrators calling for his trial, if not by the court, then by the people.

On Thursday, protesters clashed with security forces as they tried to force their way to Jl. Cendana. The violent clashes spread far as Jl. Salemba and Jl. Diponegoro on Friday.

Yushar said the decision to put Soeharto under house arrest was taken in the interest of security for the former president.

"By weighing the security conditions in the area over the last few days, we've decided to let Soeharto remain in his residence. Of course we will ask the National Police to deploy more personnel if there is an escalation of unrest," he said.

"By leaving him at his residence, where he feels at ease, we can question him any time or deal with him on seizure notifications of his assets," Yushar added.

Soeharto's questioning on Monday morning focused on the use of funds belonging to his seven tax-free charitable foundations.

His lawyer, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said Soeharto answered all 25 questions posed by a team of state prosecutors in less than two hours.

However, he said, the questions were complicated and not as simple as suggested by the independent medical team of the Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital.

"Bapak tried very hard to answer those questions and resisted help from the lawyers. But, pity, his replies were out of context," Juan told journalists, refusing to reveal the answers for ethical reasons.

His colleague, O.C. Kaligis, said investigators questioned Soeharto about the purchase of land in Sentul, near Jakarta, where a race track and housing development have been built by Hutomo Mandala Putra, Soeharto's youngest son.

"He (Soeharto) could only remember one thing, that the area was bought for a sports facility," Kaligis said.

Juan said such difficult questions affected Soeharto's medical condition. "His blood pressure rose to 180/90, and doctors suggested that the questioning be stopped," he added.

Juan said Cipto Mangunkusumo doctors will conduct comprehensive medical tests on Soeharto in the next two weeks, including brain scans after suggestions that it might have been damaged following a stroke last year. (01)