Suharto's son is charged in plot to murder judge

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Tommy Suharto, the youngest son of the former Indonesian dictator, was charged yesterday with plotting the assassination of a judge, the most serious allegation yet to be brought against the family which dominated the country for three decades.

The 40-year-old son of the former dictator Suharto, who fell from power four years ago, was also charged with evading justice and illegal possession of weapons. His trial, scheduled to begin in Jakarta in the next fortnight, comes after 18 months of intrigue, corruption and farcical incompetence by the Indonesian authorities.

Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, a 61-year-old Supreme Court judge, was shot dead in central Jakarta last July. According to witnesses, two motorbike riders forced the judge's car off the road and one of them shot him several times through the window. He died on the spot from injuries to the chest and head.

From the beginning, suspicion fell on Tommy Suharto, who made millions from lucrative contracts awarded under his father's regime.

Justice Syafiuddin, chief of the Supreme Court's appeals department, had recently upheld an 18-month sentence for corruption imposed upon the dictator's son by a lower court.

At the time of the murder, Suharto was a fugitive, having absconded soon after the imposition of the original sentence in November 2000. Rumours suggested Indonesian judges were being threatened and bribed to acquit him. Sure enough, three months after Justice Syafiuddin's murder, the conviction was unexpectedly overturned.

By the time Suharto was rearrested last November, the evidence against him appeared overwhelming. Two of his associates were arrested and made signed statements – later retracted during their ongoing trial – describing how he gave them guns to kill the judge and paid them $10,000 (£7,000).

The murder weapons were found in a house reportedly rented by Suharto. He insisted he had been hiding in another part of the country at the time. But the owners of the house where he claimed to have stayed knew nothing of this and the one bodyguard who supported his alibi mysteriously died in police detention.

During his year as a fugitive, Suharto became something of a bogeyman in Jakarta: despite the absence of firm evidence, many Indonesians hold him responsible for a series of explosions that took place in the Indonesian capital last year.

But even after his father's fall from power, there is no doubt Tommy Suharto commands vast financial resources and that his conviction is far from a foregone conclusion.

"This whole saga has been nothing but a charade," The Jakarta Post wrote after his arrest. "Whatever new game is being played out following Tommy's arrest, we should postpone any celebrations until we see real justice upheld."

Yesterday lawyers expressed concern that the three alleged crimes were being combined in a single charge.

Johnson Pandjaitan, the deputy director of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, said: "I see efforts to reduce and weaken charges against Tommy by bringing all the cases in one charge. It will provide Tommy with a great opportunity to get off, or at least to get away with a lower sentence."

Suharto is the only member of his family to be brought to court for crimes committed during his father's 32 years in power. The former president was indicted for corruption, but charges were dropped after the 80-year-old ex-dictator's lawyers successfully argued that he was senile. Last month, Tommy Suharto was transferred to Jakarta's Cipinang jail, and a cell once occupied by opponents of his father's New Order regime. If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty.

* Indonesian prosecutors said yesterday that the parliamentary Speaker, Akbar Tandjung, had been detained in connection with a $4m (£2.8m) corruption scandal involving the state food agency, Bulog.

A spokesman, Barman Zahir, said: "Akbar Tandjung is officially a detainee of the attorney general's office beginning today. But he has not been willing to sign the arrest letter yet. Around 50 Golkar MPs are now in the intelligence office, where Akbar is trying to make a deal."

Golkar is the second largest party in parliament and is led by Mr Tandjung. The scandal could affect the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, which includes Golkar.