Thu, 09 Nov 2000

Soeharto's case may be reopened

JAKARTA (JP): Prosecutors' efforts to try Soeharto may again be moving forward as the Jakarta High Court on Wednesday overturned a lower court decision to cease the corruption trial against the former president.

The Jakarta High Court also ordered the resumption of Soeharto's city arrest status.

Presiding judge Gde Soedharta announced the decision during the proceedings saying that the High Court had accepted the prosecutors' appeal and thus ordered the South Jakarta District Court to reopen the case.

The panel of judges also comprised of Ismun Abdurrahim and Ignatius Subianto.

The High Court judges felt that the district court had ignored several facts related to Soeharto in issuing the controversial verdict.

The South Jakarta District Court after hearing the opinion of a team of doctors on Sept. 28 decided to drop the case on the grounds that the defendant was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

Soeharto did not attend any of the three court sessions at the district court which also released him from city arrest.

Soeharto, 79, who resigned as president in May 1998, is accused of stealing US$571 million from the state by funneling money from seven charity foundations he chaired into businesses belonging to his family and cronies.

The former president's defense lawyers at the time said their client should never have to face court again due to his permanent illness, particularly due to the three strokes he has suffered.

The Jakarta High Court's decision coincidentally mirrors the fate of his son, Hutomo Mandala Putra, who was also initially exonerated by the South Jakarta District Court over a fraudulent land exchange deal but only to have the decision eventually overturned by a higher court in an appeal.

Soedharta said in his decision that the doctors' opinion should have been taken as an explanation and not as legal evidence in the case.

He added that the work of the medical team exceeded its authority as it was only meant to help surmise whether Soeharto could appear for questioning before the court, and not whether he was fit to stand trial.

The judges, though stopping short of making it a formal decision, also expressed the consideration that when the trial resumes Soeharto's presence was not mandatory.


The decision was immediately met with ire by Soeharto's defense team, who charged that the ruling insulted the credibility of three different medical teams who had examined Soeharto during the investigation process.

One of the lawyers, Mohamad Assegaf, warned that they would take legal action against it.

"We might file an appeal to the Supreme Court to annul the ruling," Assegaf told The Jakarta Post by telephone on Wednesday evening from Singapore.

Assegaf said the doctors' findings clearly show that Soeharto was not fit to face any legal proceedings.

"The fact is the man they examined is no longer able to comprehend what has happened and that whatever he says is not always what he wants to say," he said.

Assegaf suggested that politicking may be behind the High Court ruling.

"I believe that if the patient was not Soeharto, without there being any prejudice or political interest, the doctors' arguments would have been accepted as reasonable by the judges," he added.

Assegaf admitted that the High Court's ruling was unexpected.

"I was shocked when I got the news of the ruling while watching television today. By procedure, there was no way for the prosecutor to file such an appeal," he contended.

General prosecutor Muchtar Arifin said that he was pleased and considered it a success for the prosecution team.

"The law is still working...Now, we'll just wait for the South Jakarta District Court to set the date for the first hearing," Muchtar told the Post. (bby)