Fri, 15 Sep 2000

Judge tells prosecutors to produce Soeharto in court

JAKARTA (JP): Presiding judge Lalu Mariyun ordered prosecutors in the trial of former president Soeharto's US$571 million graft case to bring the defendant before the court at the next hearing on Sept. 28, 2000.

The move was taken after Soeharto failed to show up for the second court hearing on Thursday due to his allegedly poor mental condition.

"The South Jakarta District Court orders the prosecutors to present the defendant at the next hearing," Lalu said before adjourning the hearing until Sept. 28.

He added that prosecutors were to establish a new team of doctors to determine the mental and physical condition of the defendant and present the results before the court at the next hearing.

The medical team should have doctors, Lalu said, from the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI), the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and the medical schools of the University of Indonesia (UI), Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and Surabaya's Airlangga University (Unair).

The hearing opened some 20 hours after an explosive device blasted the parking lots of the Jakarta Stock Exchange (JSX) building in South Jakarta, killing at least 10 people and injuring 27 others.

The "obvious link", perceived by the general public to be an attempt to pressurize the government during the hearing of Soeharto's graft case, was strongly denied by his lawyers.

"Tell the police to get hold of the bombers first, then make such charges," lawyer Juan Felix Tampubolon told reporters after Thursday's hearing.

Prosecutor Muchtar Arifin has charged the defendant with Article 1 of the 1971 anti-corruption law -- which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment -- for misappropriating US$571 million of state funds by siphoning off the money from seven tax-free charitable foundations which he chaired.

As the hearing opened before a 500-member audience, prosecutor Muchtar asked Soeharto's lawyers whether they had handed over the summons to appear in court to the defendant.

"Again, the defendant has failed to appear in court, for reasons which are not legally acceptable," Arifin told the hearing.

Lawyer Juan immediately produced a letter from Soeharto's team of doctors, signed by team leader Teguh A.S. Ranakusuma, stating that after an examination on Thursday, the defendant's health status was found to be unchanged.

A practicing neurologist, Teguh, and colleagues Kunindro Dadi, a radiologist, and Sidiarto, also a neurologist, gave a presentation, including projecting images of Soeharto's brain onto a large screen set up in the courtroom, on the former strongman's medical history and current health condition.

Soeharto, now 79, suffered three mild strokes last year.

Ranakusuma claimed that attending the trial could eventually lead to another stroke for the defendant, which could prove to be fatal.

Sidiarto said that Soeharto's brain scans showed that he was suffering from acute Aphasia, which means difficulty in communicating due to "extensive damage to the brain tissues.

"Aphasia prevents the defendant from speaking spontaneously, understanding complex sentences, making identifications, reading and writing... he tends to repeat sentences. He tries very hard to think, but fails to answer."

"He has attention problems, language and memory problems. A portion of the left side of his brain is damaged, so he cannot use or identify letters and cannot form or say words."

Sidiarto said that on Thursday morning, the former dictator was given a test consisting of 36 questions, all having to do with identifying patterns on a chart, like "touch a circle, or touch a white square, or a blue square."

"He always stops at question 12. After that, he can't proceed."

At the hearing, the examining team of doctors from the Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital, coordinated by Soepardi Soedibyo, testified before the court that the defendant would be able to attend hearings, if accompanied by a doctor.

After the hearing, prosecutor Muchtar insisted that he would produce Soeharto in court, since, as far as he was aware, the defendant during investigations was able to "understand him, act and answer in a proper manner, sit and walk without assistance."

In Surabaya, some 200 students grouped in the People's Action Front, staged a street protest on Thursday branding Soeharto's trial as a political ploy involving the Attorney General's Office and President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The students, from various universities and higher education institutes in Surabaya, marched from the Bambu Runcing area on Jl. Panglima Sudirman to the Grahadi gubernatorial office and the provincial legislative council. The demonstration caused serious traffic congestion. (ylt/nur/sur)