Suharto's son convicted

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The Independent Online

Anti-corruption campaigners have welcomed a surprise ruling by Indonesia's Supreme Court that sentenced the youngest son of former President Suharto to 18 months in prison.

Anti-corruption campaigners have welcomed a surprise ruling by Indonesia's Supreme Court that sentenced the youngest son of former President Suharto to 18 months in prison.

Lawyers for Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra said they were planning to launch an appeal against the decision over a 1995 land-swop deal involving government property, which reversed a lower court acquittal last October. Supreme Court officials said it was now up to prosecutors to decide whether to arrest Tommy or wait until the appeal process is exhausted. "The authority now lies in the hands of the prosecutors to execute the decision," said Djoko Sarwoko, a Supreme Court official. "They do not have to wait until the defendant asks for a judicial review but it does not automatically mean that they will put him in Cipinang (prison) immediately," he said. The ruling is a new blow to the besieged Suharto family. News of the ruling came less than 48 hours before Suharto himself was due to appear in court in a separate corruption case. The former dictator is accused of siphoning off at least dlrs 583 million in state funds to bankroll businesses controlled by his cronies and children, including Tommy. Tommy, 37, was charged in a multimillion-dollar property deal with the state's main food supply agency in 1997. Prosecutors said it enriched him but cost the government dlrs 10.8 million. However, he was acquitted by the South Jakarta District Court in October. The Supreme Court made its decision to reverse the district court's ruling on Friday, but in line with Indonesian legal procedure did not announce it publicly. Sunu Mahadi, a member of the three-judge Supreme Court panel confirmed the verdict and the sentence. A second judge, Suharso, also confirmed the decision. "Tommy can only appeal for a judicial review if he has new evidence to prove his innocence," said Suharso, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. Tommy's lawyers said they would appeal and that their client had not been detained by police. "The ruling is unfair as there was no evidence to prove my client caused losses to the state," Nudirman Munir was quoted by The Jakarta Post daily as saying. He told the Indonesian Observer newspaper that the verdict "smells of politics." Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid recently ordered police to arrest Tommy after linking him to a spate of bombings in the capital, including one on Sept. 13 at the Jakarta Stock Exchange that killed 15 people. Police defied Wahid's order and only questioned Tommy for two hours before releasing him, saying they did not have sufficient evidence to detain him. Tommy has denied being responsible for the blast and in the past four days police have arrested 27 other suspects for the bombings. His father, whose 32-year dictatorship ended in 1998 amid rioting and pro-democracy protests, also has denied any wrongdoing in his corruption case. The former strongman's lawyers say he is frail after three stokes and cannot face the rigors of a long court case. He did not attend either of the two sessions of the trial which opened in Jakarta last month. Last weekend, Suharto underwent medical tests by court-appointed physicians who are scheduled to tell the court on Thursday whether he is fit to stand trial.

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