Tue, 22 Aug 2000

Soeharto hearing to begin next week: Judge Lalu

JAKARTA (JP): The head of the South Jakarta District Court said on Monday the initial hearing of the Rp 4.97 trillion (US$564.70 million) alleged corruption charges against president Soeharto would begin next week.

"I made a promise that the trial would take place at the end of August. Insya Allah (God willing) ... the promise I made will come true," Lalu Mariyun told reporters at the court.

"On Wednesday, I'll let all of you know the location and the trial date in a news conference."

When asked about the locations the court would choose from, Lalu said they included the Jakarta Convention Center and the Attorney General's Office. Both are in South Jakarta.

A district court source added that the Ministry of Agriculture building, also in South Jakarta, was also one of the options.

"Let's see how things go. In the meantime, journalists and photographers are encouraged to immediately sign up for special identification cards at the Jakarta High Court," Lalu said.

"Those who fail to get ID cards will be barred from attending the hearing sessions."

Separately, one of Soeharto's lawyers, Juan Felix Tampubolon, told reporters that the former strongman was aware of the trial.

"He said that he was a man of the law, and would comply with it," Juan told reporters at the district court.

When asked if his client would attend the hearings, Juan insisted that confirmation could only be made after the date and the location of the trial was determined.

"Once we know the location and the date, my client will undergo another physical checkup to see if he is fit to attend the hearings," he said.

The panel of judges will consist of Mariyun, Soemarno, I Gde Putra Yadnya, Mohammad Munawir and Sultan Mangun.

Director of Prosecution at the Office of Deputy Attorney General for Special Crimes Mochtar Arifin said his office would try its best to present the ailing former president in court.

Attorney General's Office spokesman Yushar Yahya said the judges usually granted a defendant an excuse to skip a trial session over health problems.

"But the excuse would be valid for one session only," Yahya said.

"The judges are also entitled to check the defendant's medical condition by themselves, with the help of an appointed medical team," he added.

Juan said the team of Soeharto's defense lawyers had prepared a number of witnesses, including former state officials during the Soeharto administration and several executives of the charitable foundations which Soeharto had chaired. (ylt)