Sat, 27 Aug 1994

Pertamina wins 17-year-old battle against Kartika

JAKARTA (JP): The Singapore Appeals Court has finally closed the books on a 17-year legal wrangle over an $81 million estate left by a former Indonesian official, pronouncing the oil giant Pertamina as its rightful owner.

Albert Hasibuan, who coordinated Pertamina's legal defense, announced yesterday that the Singapore court has upheld a 1992 verdict of the High Court which ruled in Pertamina's favor.

Pertamina has been fighting for the ownership of the deposits at the Singapore branch of Japan's Sumitomo bank, which with interest have soared to $81 million. The money was left by Achmad Thahir, a senior Pertamina official who died in 1976.

Its chief opponent was his widow Kartika Thahir, who now resides in Switzerland, and at one stage also children from his first wife, but they later withdrew under government pressure.

Pertamina contested the ownership of the fund by stating that it originated from payoffs from German contractors which Thahir received in return for fixing lucrative steel construction projects in Cilegon, West Java.

Kartika, who employed top lawyers from Britain, said receiving commissions is normal business practice in Indonesia and therefore could not be construed as corruption, which is the basis of Pertamina's claim.

Albert told reporters at his office yesterday that he personally went to Singapore on Thursday to pick up the verdict from the Appeals Court.

Appeals Court Judge Jong Pung How in the verdict said the fund was categorized as coming from bribe money and should be returned to the Indonesian government, according to Albert.

$5m to Kartika

Pertamina however did not have all its way.

"The Appeals Court rejected our request for the title to another $5 million also deposited in Sumitomo bank," he said. "The court ruled that the money belongs to Kartika."

Pertamina did not have enough evidence to claim the $5 million, according to Chief Judge Jong Pung How.

The money, which had been frozen for nearly a decade in the bank, was transferred to Pertamina's account immediately after the December 1992 High Court ruling.

With the Appeals Court verdict, the Pertamina versus Kartika Thahir case is now closed because that is the last legal channel for any appeal, according to Albert.

Harry Tjan Silalahi, advisor to Pertamina's legal team, told The Jakarta Post on a separate occasion that Kartika could not appeal to the Privy Council in London because such recourse is only possible with the consent of both parties to the dispute, in this case Pertamina and Kartika.

The Privy Council is the supreme court of the Commonwealth countries, of which Singapore is a member.

The Indonesian government views the 1992 High Court ruling as a victory in its battle against corruption.

Kartika at one stage during the high court battle threatened to reveal what she claimed to be the corruption practices in Pertamina. But the court rejected the proposal at the Indonesian government's request.

Pertamina's case was boosted by the written testimony in 1992 of L.B. Moerdani, then minister of defense, who had initially been involved in the early negotiations with Kartika to secure the return of the fund to her.

Moerdani said Kartika admitted the deposit fund came from commissions for fixing the contracts at Krakatau Steel, a project managed and funded by Pertamina. (02/hdj)