Mon, 22 Mar 1999

Judge unfazed by Nurdin ruckus

UJUNGPANDANG, South Sulawesi: The judge presiding over the trial of legislator and businessman Nurdin Halid played down on Saturday mounting criticism and rallies both for and against the prosecutor's demand for acquittal on corruption charges.

Soewito, who is also chief of Ujungpandang District Court, said public opinion would not influence his team's verdict, scheduled to be handed down on Monday.

The prosecutorial team led by Mustafa Chani urged the release of Nurdin last Saturday after they found no evidence for the charges he embezzled Rp 115 billion (about US$12 million) from a local cooperative during his tenure as its manager from 1992 to 1994. The cooperative was the official distributor under the national clove trade system controlled by Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the youngest son of former president Soeharto. The system has been discontinued.

On Saturday, hundreds of students grouped in the Association of Schools of Law Senates (Ismahi) rallied at the local prosecutor's office to protest the demand for Nurdin's acquittal. The students, representing 20 universities across the country, derided the trial as a show.

"(The proposed acquittal of) Nurdin is just a small example of practices that discourage stiff law enforcement in the country," Ismahi leader Arsanty Handayani said.

Students also demanded President B.J. Habibie dismiss Attorney General Andi Ghalib.

Another group of students rallied at Soewito's office in a show of moral support for him. They said they expected Soewito to hand down a verdict based on evidence presented during the trial.

He suspected critics of the trial lacked information on its proceedings.

Skepticism greeted Ghalib's decision to replace Gagoek Subagyanto as the district court head with Soewito last year. Gagoek had insisted on trying Nurdin, but was later accused of blackmailing the businessman. (27/amd)