Wed, 05 Apr 2000

Soeharto questioning cut short

JAKARTA (JP): The initial questioning of former president Soeharto for alleged corruption during his 32-year rule was cut short on Monday for medical reasons.

A joint team of doctors advised five visiting prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office to cease the questioning after 90 minutes due to the rising blood pressure and irregular heartbeat of Soeharto, 78. He had answered two questions when the session was halted.

Soeharto was questioned at his home on Jl. Cendana in the exclusive Menteng residential area of Central Jakarta. The prosecutors, led by Patua Siahaan, brought with them a video camera, personal computer and printer.

Spokesman for the joint medical team Supardi Sudibyo, who is the vice director for medical services at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital (RSCM), said Soeharto appeared exhausted during questioning.

"Should the procedure have been forced to continue, it would have been risky given his condition."

He said the medical team complied with general guidelines concerning care of elderly people with a history of stroke. Soeharto was hospitalized for a stroke last year and on another occasion for intestinal bleeding.

"The guidelines were infringed upon when Soeharto's blood pressure rose to 180/110 and the electronic cardiogram showed that his heartbeat was erratic," Supardi said.

One of Soeharto's lawyers, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said his client's increased blood pressure and uneven breathing indicated his discomfort during the questioning.

The Attorney General's Office had not set a schedule to resume the questioning as of Tuesday.

"Attorney General Marzuki Darusman himself will announce the date and the details of the resumption of the investigation," spokesman for the Attorney General's Office Soehandoyo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Purnama Munthe, who supervised the questioning, said the Attorney General's Office was awaiting the medical team's approval to resume the questioning.

"We're not satisfied with the suspect's answers ... the questioning is to be continued," Purnama said outside Soeharto's residence.

He said the questioning focused on the use of funds of three foundations established and controlled by Soeharto, who apparently understood the substance of the questions.

"Soeharto was able to answer in complete sentences. The prosecutors fully understood his answers," Purnama said.

Wearing a long-sleeved batik shirt, Soeharto was questioned in the living room, accompanied by his eldest daughter Siti "Tutut" Hardijanti Rukmana, four of his lawyers, his private medical team and the five state-appointed doctors from RSCM.

Purnama said the questioning proceeded slowly, with the first question divided into seven parts. He said Soeharto answered each briefly.

Soeharto also could answer the second question clearly, which his lawyers and the doctors termed more complicated than the first, Purnama added.

After he answered the second question, the doctors checked Soeharto's pulse and heartbeat twice. "Before we got into the third question, the doctors forced us to halt the questioning," Purnama said.

The deputy attorney general for special crimes Antasari Azhar said his team would again summon Soeharto.

"We'll see whether the team would go to the suspect's residence or ask him to appear at the Attorney General's Office. It's up to the medical team's advice," he told the Post.

Soeharto has failed on three summonses for questioning since the investigation into alleged corruption was reopened in December.

His legal team argued Soeharto was physically and mentally unfit for questioning, saying he was unable to communicate properly.

Marzuki said a medical checkup by a team from RSCM last month showed Soeharto was able to undergo questioning. (01)