Wed, 21 Jun 2000

Gus Dur says Soeharto worth US$45 billion

CAIRO (JP): Speaking at the same place where two-years ago then president Soeharto described reports that he was one of the world's richest men as libelous, President Abdurrahman Wahid said on Tuesday that the former president's wealth is so huge it could repay all of Indonesia's debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Speaking at a gathering of the Indonesian community at the Indonesian Embassy here, Abdurrahman claimed Soeharto's wealth totaled at least US$45 billion, and then voiced hope that his predecessor would return 95 percent of it.

Abdurrahman on Sunday confidently boasted that about $25 billion of Soeharto's wealth would be returned to the state.

The President on Tuesday claimed that he would employ both an out-of-court settlement and strong public pressure to force the Soeharto family to give up their riches.

"When the money is handed over, we will be able to repay our debt to the IMF and the World Bank. We will be free to regulate our own country, not like now were we work to death for the interests of foreign people," Abdurrahman remarked.

The President added that under his scheme, Soeharto would still be able to keep more than $2.25 billion for himself.

With audacious confidence the President illustrated how he would cajole Soeharto into surrendering the money.

Abdurrahman said he had instructed his chief negotiator, Minister of Mines and Energy Lt. Gen. (ret.) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to pressure Soeharto to return at least 50 percent of the $45 billion to the state as an initial step.

"Then the children (students) will demonstrate again. Soeharto will be scared and then we will protect him," he said in explaining his method to regain the rest of the money.

According to National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) data in February, the government's overseas debt was estimated at $71.9 billion, including a $10.3 billion loan from the IMF.

In similar meeting at the embassy in Cairo on May 13, 1998, Soeharto expressed anger when a magazine report named him the world's fourth wealthiest person after England's Queen Elizabeth II, Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.

Both Soeharto, two-years ago, and Abdurrahman on Tuesday came to Cairo to attend the summit of the Group of 15 (G-15) developing countries.

According to Abdurrahman, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was shocked when informed about Soeharto's alleged vast wealth. Abdurrahman claimed that Mubarak said he would build high-rise buildings in Cairo if he possessed such wealth.

"When I disclosed the amount to Mubarak he shouted (in surprise)," said Abdurrahman.

Citing the experiences of the Philippines and Iran, the President reiterated his disbelief that the court alone could force Soeharto to return his wealth to the state.

The President said foreign banks would be the only eventual winners of the dispute because they could keep Soeharto's wealth for years pending the result of a legal process.

"If we use the courts, Soeharto's wealth will never be returned. The rich countries will enjoy (the wealth)," said the President.

Abdurrahman and his entourage are expected to arrive back in Jakarta on Wednesday after being away from the country for two weeks.

He has visited eight countries, including Japan, France, Pakistan and the United States, where he underwent two medical checkups, one in particular for his ailing eyesight. (byg/prb)