Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Soeharto must stand trial when he is fit, Lopa says

JAKARTA (JP): Former president Soeharto, who is scheduled to undergo a medical examination before Monday, must be sent to court if he is declared fit for trial, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Baharuddin Lopa said on Thursday.

"He will be tried as soon as he gets well," Lopa said in a hearing with House of Representatives Commission II for home and legal affairs.

The Supreme Court recently upheld the South Jakarta District Court's decision to delay the prosecution of Soeharto, who was charged in connection with a US$571 million corruption case, and to set him free from house arrest because of his ailing health. The Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General's Office to supervise his health care and cover his medical costs until he was declared fit for trial.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said earlier on Thursday that a team of doctors from Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital (RSCM) planned to perform an initial medical examination on the 79-year-old Soeharto before Monday.

Lopa agreed that an ill defendant could not be tried, but he frowned upon the court's decision that Soeharto's medical costs should be covered by the government.

He also criticized the way the South Jakarta District Court based its decision on Soeharto's previous medical assessment.

"The medical assessment should have only be taken as a reference for the judge's decision," he said.

Asked to comment on the Central Jakarta District Court's recent verdict on businessman Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, who was sentenced to two years in jail for the fraudulent use of US$75 million in state money, Lopa said the sentence was too light for a big-time corruptor.

"There is something wrong with the panel of judges who tried the case. The very light sentence indicates that the country is on the brink of collapse," he said.

In some cases, officials found guilty of embezzling between Rp 10 million and Rp 50 million have received heavier punishment of between five years and seven years in jail.

He claimed that many judges had damaged the judiciary's image since they frequently made decisions based not on legal justice but on corrupt and collusive considerations.

"Court decisions are not for sale. Many people have been frustrated in seeking legal justice," he said.

Lopa vowed to fight an all-out battle against corrupt judges to uphold the supremacy of the law and restore public faith in the courts.

"Give me a bit of time to prove it. I will launch a quick operation in the near future," he said.

This was in follow up of his Feb. 12 declaration to discourage judges from taking bribes.

"As a consequence, I'm ready to die fighting corruption, an amoral deed that is prohibited by Islam," he said.

He called on the people, including legislators, to help report corruption and collusion and provide him with evidence of corruption. He said: "I will process any reports and evidence on bribes. I'm available 24 hours a day for reports on corruption."

Separately, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, Muljohardjo, said that an appointed team of doctors would assess the results of the examination on Soeharto to determine whether he should be placed in hospital.

"On Monday at the latest the doctors will take Soeharto to RSCM and invite officials from the South Jakarta Prosecutor's Office or the chief prosecutor to observe," Muljohardjo told reporters at his office.

He said that the hospital management had appointed Irhamsyah, RSCM's vice director for medical affairs, as leader of the team.

The hospital has entrusted him with the task of selecting team members and arranging all technical matters concerning Soeharto's medication, he added. (rms/bby)