Suharto to be charged over theft of £100m in state funds

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The Independent Online

Indonesia's former president, Suharto, will be formally charged with corruption in pilfering $150m (£100m) in state funds through a maze of personally controlled charities, prosecutors said yesterday.

Indonesia's former president, Suharto, will be formally charged with corruption in pilfering $150m (£100m) in state funds through a maze of personally controlled charities, prosecutors said yesterday.

The former dictator faces life in prison if found guilty, although he has been offered a pardon by the reformist head of state, Abdurrahman Wahid, if he returns the stolen money.

Mr Suharto, 79, ruled Indonesia for 32 years until 1998. He is under house arrest at his Jakarta home, where he is recuperating from strokes.

His lawyers condemned the prosecution as being politically motivated and said their client was too sick to face trial. They said he has permanent brain damage and has lost much of his memory.

But the Attorney-General, Marzuki Darusman, a former rights activist at the height of Mr Suharto's reign, completed the case against him last night. Emerging from a meeting with state lawyers, he said formal charges would be filed soon ahead of a trial scheduled to start next month.

Bringing Mr Suharto to trial will be a crucial test of the nation's resolve to roll back years of authoritarianism and corruption. After he quit two years ago, the country set forth on an ambitious transition to democracy. But the change has proved difficult and has been marred by entrenched graft and a deep economic crisis. The new reforming politicians are inexperienced and there has sectarian and communal violence in which thousands have been killed.

Mr Suharto, a retired five-star general, has denied any wrongdoing. Since he stepped down student protesters have clashed with security forces in Jakarta, demanding that Mr Suharto be imprisoned. Yesterday there was no immediate reaction from students and Jakarta was quiet.

Mr Darusman said Mr Suharto would be charged with violating an anti-corruption law that the ex-dictator himself decreed in 1971, five years after he seized power amid political chaos. Mr Suharto, who prided himself on bringing stability and development to Indonesia's 210 million people, is accused of enriching himself, his family and cronies in his capacity as chairman of several charitable foundations which allegedly siphoned off a fortune in state money.

Some of the foundations took compulsory levies out of the salaries of millions of government workers and were also generously supported through state funding.

Critics say that Mr Suharto amassed billions through corruption. The prosecutors have said they limited their investigation only to the role of the foundations and the missing $150m to improve their chances of a conviction.

The foundations were set up to advance a range of social causes. Critics have long said they were only a front to bankroll business empires for those within the Suharto circle. Mr Darusman said that Mr Suharto would not be charged with breaking laws in his role as president, nor would he face charges over alleged human- rights violations.

In the past analysts have said Mr Suharto used a web of presidential decrees over many years to protect himself from charges of abuse of power in his capacity as leader. ( AP)

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