Recluse Suharto denies embezzling pounds 9bn

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The Independent Online
IN A rare public appearance a year after being driven from power, Suharto, the reclusive former president of Indonesia, denied reports that he has embezzled as much as $15 billion (pounds 9.3 billion) of state assets in foreign accounts.

"I emphasise that I've never had any money overseas," he said, after a meeting with the attorney general in Jakarta.

In March The Independent revealed that three London properties owned by the Suharto family had been put on the market for pounds 11 million. A report last week in the Asian edition of Time magazine said that Suharto and members of his family had at least $15 billion of overseas assets, including property, art treasures and companies. It alleged that $9 billion was transferred from a Swiss to an Austrian bank account in May last year, immediately after Suharto resigned as president to end 32 years in power.

A team of investigators, including the justice minister and attorney general, are scheduled to leave for Europe this week to investigate the claims. Yesterday Suharto handed over a letter authorising them to search for and seize any deposits held in his name in foreign bank accounts.

"I have given the power of attorney to the government through the attorney general," he told reporters. "This is to discredit information in the report by Time magazine."

The inquiry began last December but has yielded few results while being run by the attorney general, a military officer named Andi Ghalib who rose to power under Suharto. Corruption charges have been brought against "Tommy" Mandala Putra, Suharto's youngest son, but the case was weakened when key witnesses withdrew testimony.

Indonesians regard it as a piece of political theatre, engineered by General Ghalib and the president, B J Habibie, another former intimate of Suharto. Both men need to improve their popularity. In 10 days, Indonesia will hold its first democratic parliamentary elections in more than 40 years, and Mr Habibie's political future depends on their outcome.

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