Suharto to appear in court on £355m corruption charges

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The Independent Online

The former Indonesian president Suharto was formally charged with corruption yesterday, the latest move in an increasingly vigorous effort to bring him to justice for crimes committed during his 32-year dictatorship.

The former Indonesian president Suharto was formally charged with corruption yesterday, the latest move in an increasingly vigorous effort to bring him to justice for crimes committed during his 32-year dictatorship.

Hundreds of police prevented 200 anti-Suharto demonstrators from reaching his central Jakarta bungalow, where government prosecutors met the 79-year-old retired general and his lawyers to inform him of the charges.

The details, which will be read out when Suharto appears in court as early as this month, relate to seven charitable foundations set up by the former president into which he is said to have transferred $570m (£355m) of state money for his and his family's benefit.

Umbu Laga Lazore, one of the team of state prosecutors, said: "Suharto's status, as of today, is that of a defendant." The filing of formal charges raises the prospect that, two years after he was driven from power by violent demonstrations, the man who ruled Indonesia unopposed for three decades will finally be brought to account.

In the past few weeks, both Suharto and members of his immediate family have been the object of an intense investigation that has much to do with the political agenda of the current President, Abdurrahman Wahid. It is surely no coincidence that on Monday Mr Wahid presents his first state of the nation address to the country's most powerful legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly.

A foreign diplomat said last night: "There's definitely a political dimension to the Suharto investigation." But various obstacles still stand between Suharto and the dock.

His supporters continue to insist his poor health makes him incapable of understanding and co-operating with the investigation. A series of minor strokes has left him visibly frail; his lawyers claim he has suffered brain damage that has impaired his speech and his comprehension.

Suharto submitted to questioning only after repeated refusals, and only in the presence of a team of doctors, who interrupted several times.

Even if the present charges result in a conviction, he is unlikely to end up in jail.

President Wahid has repeatedly said that he will pardon his predecessor as long as he returns all of the funds that he looted.

Estimates of the wealth corruptly acquired by the Suhartos range as high as $15bn and even $40bn, although the task of pinning down individual acts of corruption is extremely complicated.

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