Suharto faces wealth inquiry

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FOUR MONTHS after being driven from power, Indonesia's former president Suharto is to be questioned about allegations that he corruptly amassed billions of dollars during his three decades in office.

The government of his successor and former protege, President B J Habibie, yesterday announced the formation of an investigative team, headed by the attorney general Muhammad Ghalib. "The people want a clarification of this matter and so does Suharto," Mr Ghalib said. "We will meet the [former] president very soon and will investigate everything in connection with Suharto's assets and bank accounts."

One of Suharto's sons, Bambang Trihatmodjo, was banned yesterday from travelling abroad during an investigation of alleged violations of financial laws at a collapsed bank of which he was part owner.

Estimates of the wealth amassed by the Suharto family range as high as $30bn, much of it through contracts awarded to their construction, energy, car and toll road businesses.

Despite demands for Suharto's trial and imprisonment, President Habibie has proceeded cautiously against his former mentor, and there are suspicions that the latest investigation is merely a public relations exercise. Last week, Mr Ghalib - like many in the cabinet, a senior officer under Suharto - expressed disbelief at the allegations. "Suharto is a former president," he said, "so he would not lie."

It is a measure of how much Indonesia has changed in the past few months that such allegations can even be raised in public. Under Suharto, insulting the president was a crime.

He has appeared on television to deny the charges, on a station part- owned by his daughter. "There is no proof that I have put ... money in foreign currencies," he said. "If it is true, you can contact Indonesian ambassadors in any country concerned to help transfer the money back."