Fri, 16 Jun 2000

Soeharto to return wealth: Gus Dur

TEHRAN (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid hinted on Thursday former president Soeharto would comply with popular demand to return his family's wealth to the state.

In his address to Indonesian society here, Abdurrahman said a negotiation between Soeharto's family and the government, which would grant Soeharto a presidential pardon if the former ruler returned all of his ill-gotten assets, is underway.

"I could say now there have been signals that an agreement for Soeharto to return state assets he illegally obtained is within reach," Gus Dur, as the President is called, said.

"The family of Pak Harto has agreed, but there are several matters to be settled, including a necessity for me to issue a guarantee on the government's behalf that Soeharto will not be mistreated.

"I don't think it is a bother because I'm not a person who has a tendency to act cruelly against people."

The President assured, however, the talks would not affect the legal process against Soeharto.

"He (Soeharto) must follow the legal process anyway. Then I will pardon him if he is found guilty," Abdurrahman said.

During his visit to the United States earlier this week, the President claimed to win support from U.S. President Bill Clinton to trace Soeharto's assets in the country. Abdurrahman said an organization called the Center for the Study of Corruption would help the government fight corruption committed by state officials.

Time magazine wrote in a May, 1999 edition an article that claimed Soeharto and his family amassed a fortune of around US$15 billion. The Central Jakarta district court threw out a defamation suit lodged by Soeharto against the magazine last week.

Abdurrahman's remarks came on the heels of Attorney General Marzuki Darusman's revelation that Abdurrahman had named Minister of Mines and Energy Lt. Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the government's representative in the talks with Soeharto's family, which is represented by eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti "Tutut" Rukmana.

Speaking after a weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Marzuki stressed that the negotiations were focusing on assets, both in Indonesia and abroad, which were directly related to the seven foundations Soeharto chaired.

"The purpose of the negotiations is to get a clearer picture, whether it is possible to regain these assets," Marzuki said.

In an interview with The Jakarta Post on Thursday, Marzuki said Susilo's comments were based on the fact that he had initiated a communication with Soeharto's family over the matter.

Marzuki said such talks would touch sensitive issues so the two parties need to begin with a comfortable atmosphere.

He added that the talks would be conducted in a more formal way if substantial progress was made.

"These ongoing talks are only an exchange of opinion. If there is substantial progress, the government will start a formal forum that is legally and politically acceptable," Marzuki said.

But lawyers representing the former ruler's family denied that any conversation between the two parties had occurred.

One of Soeharto's lawyers, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said on Thursday he heard from Hardijanti that no such talks had occurred.

"Ibu Tutut denied she had attended any of the talks. I heard this rumor three weeks ago and sought to immediately confirm it with her," Juan said.

"We consider this (negotiation) improper. Legal measures have been imposed on my client, so it must be concluded by a legal measure," he added.

Earlier on Thursday, Abdurrahman held a meeting with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami at Saad-Abad, the former imperial palace.

During his brief talk with Khatami, Abdurrahman asked for Iran's support on the disputed area of Irian Jaya and other international issues and for assistance to resolve the economic and financial crisis at home.

The visit is the first for Abdurrahman since he assumed power last October. Soeharto visited Iran in 1993, followed by a visit by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to Jakarta in 1994.

Abdurrahman also paid a courtesy call to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his one-day trip here.

The President also revealed that Khatami will be among the world's Muslim leaders invited to a celebration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday in Jakarta on June 22. Others invited include Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkhiah and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. (bby/byg)