Seize The Suhartos’ NZ Assets
Update On CAFCA’S Campaign
– Murray Horton
In 1999, CAFCA announced that we intended to campaign for a Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the New Zealand assets of Indonesia’s former ruling family, the Suhartos, and those of their cronies. What’s more, the point of our campaign would be to have those assets seized, as a means of returning some of their plundered wealth, to the peoples of Indonesia and East Timor (see the Watchdog 92, December 1999, cover story under this same title, for a detailed look at the Suharto and crony assets in NZ.). That call was issued before the 1999 general election, which brought the Labour/Alliance government to power.
Lobbying MPs And Ministers
We wasted no time. One of our top priorities in the new millennium was to write to all Labour, Alliance, Green and New Zealand First MPs (we decided not to bother with National, ACT or United), calling for this Inquiry and assets seizure, citing the Proceeds of Crime Act as legal precedent. “…Such an Inquiry would also serve as a timely investigation into the sort of people permitted into New Zealand as foreign investors. One of the few remaining legal “controls” on foreign investors here is that they be persons of ‘good character’. We think that you’ll agree with us that the Suharto family and cronies hardly meet that requirement” (CAFCA letter to MPs, 1/3/00). We weren’t expecting miracles from the large number of new MPs and those suddenly propelled into Cabinet, we knew they’d be flat out and considerably distracted. But we wanted to stake out our position early in the term of this Government, and to plant the idea in the heads of those who might never have realised that the very people responsible for the quarter of a century of murderous misery inflicted upon East Timor actually held assets in this country. We saw this as being a medium to long term campaign.
True to form, those Government MPs that answered referred us to Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He wrote: “…The corruption allegations against former Indonesian President Suharto and his family, and the reported impact of corruption on Indonesia’s economic and political well-being, are very serious. I applaud the commitment President Abdurrahman Wahid’s new, democratically elected government has made to stamp out corruption in Indonesia. As part of this process, his Government has reopened investigations into the Suharto family’s wealth…If the Indonesian authorities conclude that assets held by the Suharto family were acquired illegally, and those assets were located in New Zealand, Indonesia would be welcome to request assistance through established legal and diplomatic channels. To date we have not received any such request from the Indonesian authorities. The New Zealand government supports Indonesia’s renewed efforts to stop corruption and uphold the rule of law. The investigations under way in Indonesia and the procedures already in place to handle requests for New Zealand assistance would provide the foundation for any future action on the issues you have raised. Given the complexity of the cases under investigation in Indonesia, it may be some time before the Indonesian authorities turn their attention overseas. Should they request our assistance, we stand ready to help” (letter to CAFCA, 31/3/00).
No mention of any Inquiry, let alone contemplating seizure of assets. So that was the official Government line – we’ll help if asked, but we don’t expect anything to come our way soon. However CAFCA didn’t confine our campaign to lobbying MPs and Ministers.
We resolved to organise (or, preferably, co-organise) a conference or seminar on the subject. Rather than hold it in Christchurch, our home base, we decided that it would be more effective if held in Auckland, the country’s biggest city. Trying to organise something at the other end of the country is beyond us, so we went looking for a partner. We didn’t have to look far – the indefatiga-ble Maire Leadbeater, who had been a leading campaigner for East Timorese independence for many years, was looking for a new angle with which to approach the broader question of solidarity with the Indonesian people (Maire, like many East Timor campaigners, felt that the East Timor struggle had now entered a quite different phase, and that there was no longer a need for an East Timor independence campaign). She is a frequent visitor to her Christchurch hometown, so we met with her in late 1999, and agreed to jointly organise an Auckland public meeting and seminar. This event would also serve as the public launch of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.
The title was agreed upon – Towards Democracy in Indonesia; Seize New Zealand Suharto Assets – (Indonesian human rights, or Indonesia generally, are not CAFCA issues; our focus in this field is narrowly defined). It was agreed that the guest speaker should be Dr George Aditjondro, the world expert on the Suhartos’ global empire (George has been in academic exile in Australia for a number of years); I would speak on the NZ assets of the family and their cronies. Organisationally, the load was lifted off our shoulders by Maire and her new Auckland committee agreeing to run the whole thing. They secured the support of the New Zealand Asia Institute, at the University of Auckland, and the Indonesian Section of the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures, at the University.
Financially, CAFCA took on the task of paying the trans-Tasman return fare for George and flying me to and from Auckland. This was one of our bigger commitments in recent years, and the first time we’ve attempted something so ambitious from long distance. We didn’t go fund raising for this but we were greatly helped by an unsolicited $700 donation from the East Timor Independence Committee (Auckland), as part of its winding up. Maire’s contribution extended to personally paying for many of the weekend’s necessities, such as restaurant meals.
The public meeting was held on the night of March 31, 2000; the seminar was all day on April 1. Attendance at both was less than the organisers expected or had hoped. I think the reason for this is simply that, for most New Zealand activists, interest in Indonesia dropped sharply once East Timor was off the movement’s agenda. This is not a criticism or an excuse, simply a fact. Wearing my Philippines Solidarity hat, I know that NZ interest in that country peaked during the Marcos dictatorship – once that human rights crisis was perceived to be “over”, interest shifted elsewhere, leaving only a small core of solidarity activists. It’s the same with Indonesia. This was clearly shown by the complete lack of media interest in George Aditjondro’s Auckland visit (in stark contrast to his previous visit, when Indonesia was in major crisis and commanding world attention). The final act of the seminar was a politicians’ forum, featuring Phil Goff; his Associate Minister, the Alliance’s Matt Robson; and Keith Locke, the Greens’ foreign affairs spokesperson. At the press conference following that, one single solitary (Radio New Zealand) journalist turned up, to find that she had the three politicians and George all to herself. Although the seminar’s significance was recognised much further afield, with George’s speech making the front page of the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), of April 2. Another factor in this (and it’s backed up by my several previous visits there, to speak at central city venues) is that Aucklanders are notoriously fickle about public meetings and the like, purely because of the city’s sprawl and the transport hassles involved in getting anywhere. Having said that, those that attended were well informed, very keen and included a goodly number of local Indonesians (not to mention the inevitable man from the Embassy).
My speech is available (in hard copy or electronically) from CAFCA. Essentially, it is the same as the cover story in Watchdog 92, as that represented our sum knowledge, at the time, on the NZ assets of the Suhartos and cronies. George quoted from his encylopaedic 40 page paper: “Chopping The Global Tentacles Of The Suharto Oligarchy: Can Aotearoa/New Zealand Lead The Way?” (also available from CAFCA, in hard copy or electronically).
Despite attracting only a small number of people (approximately 50), the seminar was a high powered affair. Green MP, Keith Locke, (who is also Maire’s brother) was there for the whole day, and played a full part in the workshops and discussions. He committed the Greens to full support for CAFCA’s call for an Inquiry and seizure of the NZ assets. He also announced that he had been successful in getting the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee (of which he is a member) to hold an Inquiry Into The Role Of Human Rights In Foreign Policy and urged us to make our Suharto assets submission to that, rather than keep waiting for a specific Inquiry into those assets. CAFCA weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of this, and decided to make a submission, which we duly sent, in July.
The two Ministers, Goff and Robson, turned up only for the politicians’ forum and press confer-ence. Robson said that he thought some sort of register of NZ assets should be established. Goff revealed that he keeps, in his office, a collection of hideous photos of East Timorese being tortured and murdered by the Indonesian military, to remind him what it’s all about. But not once in his speech, despite standing in front a banner reading “Seize New Zealand Suharto Assets”, did he mention that subject. Nor did he, until I asked him, from the floor, whether he supported an Inquiry and seizure. He replied that he didn’t know whether an Inquiry was the right way to go about it, and he didn’t support seizure, because “we have to abide by the law, we can’t just go around seizing people’s property. Not that we carry a flag for the Suhartos. But we’d only act if asked by the Indonesian government”. George criticised the Ministers, from the floor, for not having attended the full day’s speeches and workshops – Goff lost his composure and snapped a curt response about the pressures of his job, both as a Minister and a constituency MP, and about the amount of time it keeps him away from his family (and, frankly, I sympathise with him. In an ideal world, politicians would spend all day at such seminars, but most of them are run off their feet, in a job that is murder on health, sanity, relationships and families).
Both Maire and myself, as co-organisers, adjudged the weekend’s events to have been both productive and successful. The Indonesia Human Rights Committee agreed to be the main organisation pushing the campaign for an Inquiry and assets seizure. It’s too specialist an area for CAFCA to devote a lot of energy and resources to, particularly from long distance, but we can provide the all important information. We both agreed that it looked like there would be a lot of work to do on the politicians. We were to be pleasantly surprised.
Government Offers To Help Indonesia Seize Suhartos’ NZ Assets
Less than a month after speaking at our Auckland seminar, and pouring official cold water over the idea of seizing Suharto assets in NZ, Phil Goff visited Indonesia, met President Abdurrahman Wahid (universally known as Gus Dur) and Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, and offered to do that very thing. The turn around was startling, and CAFCA was quite taken aback by the speed of it all. Goff said: “I will offer the Indonesian government help if it wished to take action against those who are holding assets in New Zealand that were gained as a result of corruption. We have the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act, and certainly we would wish to be cooperative in any legal action we can take under either of those pieces of legisla-tion…and if there is evidence that any asset we can track down was the proceed of a crime such as corruption, then we would be prepared to move…What we can’t do is move in and sequester assets unless the proper lawful procedures are followed and the requisite evidence is available to demonstrate that any particular asset was from the proceeds of corruption” (New Zealand Herald, 25/4/00; “Suharto assets here may be seized”; Eugene Bingham). Defining how a particular asset in New Zealand was the result of corruption in Indonesia is tricky – everything the Suharto family and cronies did during their 32 year long dictatorship was corruption. But the Government was, very much, on the right track.
For its part, the Indonesian government said that it was requesting the governments of the US, Switzerland and New Zealand to freeze Suharto assets in their countries. Darusman, the Attorney-General, said: “Their (NZ) government is prepared to cooperate in smoothing the way for the legal action that the Indonesian government needs to take”. President Gus Dur said, in response to Goff’s offer: “It appears that he (Suharto) didn’t keep his wealth anywhere near Indonesia. He put it in faraway places. If it had been close by, we would have smelled it” (quotes, translated from the Indonesian, from a wire service story; “Disita, Harta Soeharto Di Luari Negeri”, 27/4/00).
By early May, Goff had gone a step further and sent a list of Suharto family NZ assets to the Indonesian government. He stressed that they were small in comparison with the many billions of (US) dollars amassed by the Suhartos: “However, handing over what we know about Suharto’s holdings in New Zealand may assist the Indonesian authorities to bring to account those responsi-ble. The need to bring those people to justice is an important step in eliminating the almost endemic corruption in the country. This was a recurring theme mentioned by senior ministers during my visit to Indonesia last week. President Wahid himself listed corruption as Indonesia’s most critical problem when I met with him. This material may help Indonesia better establish whether the money to purchase these assets was obtained legally. If the Indonesian authorities believe a crime has been committed, we will look into the matter under New Zealand’s Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. The law allows New Zealand to locate and confiscate or forfeit tainted property, to restrain dealings in property or to freeze assets, as long as the offence being investigated was punishable under Indonesian law by imprisonment for a term of five years or more” (Evening Post, 6/5/00; “NZ details Suharto’s Kiwi assets”).
CAFCA wrote to Goff, under the Official Information Act, for a copy of what was sent to the Indonesian government. We also urged him not to restrict his inquiries to Suharto family real estate in NZ, pointing out that there are corporate holdings as well. And we urged him not to restrict his inquiries to the immediate Suharto family, but to look at the assets (both real estate and corporate) of a number of cronies. Our fears were confirmed when we received, from Acting Minister Robson, the material (in June 2000). It was very slim, detailing only Tommy Suharto’s former ownership of Lilybank and its scandalous 1999 sale to his mate for $1; and the ownership of a couple of Queenstown alpine chalets by his sister, Titiek (for full details, see Watchdog 92, cover story). The package consisted of a few 1999 media stories, press releases (which means that, as CAFCA’s call for seizure featured prominently in those media stories, the NZ government has officially tabled our views with the Indonesian government), and details of the two relevant NZ acts.
At the time of writing, we haven’t had a full reply from Goff (who has been, understandably, greatly preoccupied with the closer to hand crises in both Fiji and the Solomon Islands). However, he wrote to Maire Leadbeater: “I appreciate your reasons for seeking further New Zealand action on these issue. The allegations against the Suharto family are serious and widespread corruption has impacted significantly on Indonesia’s political and economic wellbeing. It is important, however, that our actions be lawful. The investigations under way in Indonesia and the procedures already in place to handle requests for New Zealand assistance provide the foundation for any future action on the issues you have raised. Should the Indonesian authorities request further assistance from New Zealand, we stand ready to help” (letter, 29/5/00). Thus far, the Government hasn’t done what we asked them to do, but Phil Goff, to our pleasant surprise, has made a very solid start to the task. All we could hope to do in this campaign is to get some political action – the Government has done that, both in NZ, and by raising the issue at the highest political level in Indonesia. We unashamedly take the credit for this – it represents the outcome of years of CAFCA work, dating back to when we first exposed Tommy Suharto’s ownership of Lilybank, in 1993, and throughout the subsequent years when nobody wanted to know. But we musn’t relax the pressure – there’s a lot more to the Suhartos and their mates than a couple of pieces of South Island real estate. For example, George Aditjondro wants New Zealand to override Cook Islands bank secrecy to assist the hunt for Suharto assets in this part of the world. That’s a very tall order, and a job that proved beyond the high powered Winebox Inquiry. But we may have started something here – in July 2000, the Government announced that it was investigating bringing in legislation to seize the New Zealand assets of those responsible for the Fijian coup, as part of its package of “smart sanctions”.
The absence of the media from the Auckland public meeting and seminar was a disappointment to us, but sadly indicative of where the New Zealand media is at, even in our biggest city. However, our disappointment was assuaged by the very keen interest in the subject belatedly expressed in the subject by the New Zealand Herald’s Mathew Dearnaley (who had covered George Aditjondro’s previous NZ visit). Mathew set out to thoroughly investigate the actual extent of NZ assets held by the Suhartos and their cronies. He worked extensively with both myself and George (ringing me day and night, several times a day, for days on end), and did an awful lot of original research himself, both in NZ and overseas. We don’t have the resources of the country’s biggest newspa-per, part of a transnational chain, for things such as exhaustive title searches in Queenstown and getting colleagues to do legwork for us in Hong Kong. We reproduce his article in full, because it is the latest on the subject, adding to what we already knew.
“Bargain sales hide trail of lost millions (New Zealand Herald, 13/5/00; Mathew Dearnaley).
“Indonesia’s corruption inquiry into the vast wealth amassed during the Suharto clan’s long stranglehold on power reaches deep into New Zealand’s heartland. New Zealand, the United States and Switzerland have been asked to help recover billions of dollars that Indonesia’s new Govern-ment suspects are salted away around the world.
“But Weekend Herald efforts to discover what the family of deposed President Suharto still owns in New Zealand have been stymied by ownership changes in which assets have been sold for token amounts. Suspicions that the assets have simply been ‘parked’ have prompted calls for a more thorough investigation than the Government is now making.
“Suharto – dubbed the ‘smiling general’ – was toppled by civil unrest in 1998. Despite the inroads of Indonesia’s currency collapse, a Time magazine investigation concluded in 1999 that the former first family retained holdings of $US15 billion ($31 billion). It said much of that fortune had disappeared overseas.
“During 32 years at the top, Suharto fingers were in everything from airlines, oil and gas exports, television stations and toll roads to chopsticks, condoms and mineral water. The family’s more than four million hectares of land holdings included nearly 40% of East Timor. The pace was set in the 1970s by Suharto’s wife, the late Madame Tien – dubbed ‘Mrs Tien Per Cent’ for her questionable business deals – but the couple’s six pampered children pushed the limits of public tolerance by soaking up lucrative Government concessions once they came of age.
“Suharto, now aged 78, protests that he has not taken a cent overseas and is suing Time, for three times the magazine’s estimate of his family’s fortune. He has been ordered to remain in Jakarta until doctors deem him well enough to cooperate with the corruption inquiry.
“Foreign Minister Phil Goff, who promised to help Indonesia during a visit there last month, has already sent a dossier about South Island resort assets linked to two of Suharto’s children. Campaigners say the probe must go deeper if the full picture of their ownership here is to be uncovered.
“Mr Goff, who acknowledges that property has changed hands ‘in somewhat suspicious circum-stances’, says the Government will consider further investigation if Indonesia asks for it. But his Associate Foreign Minister, Matt Robson, says the inquiry should be widened to ‘give consideration to corporate links between Suharto and New Zealand-based companies who may have got themselves unwittingly involved’.
“Suharto’s youngest son, 37-year-old Hutomo (Tommy) Mandala Putra, and second daughter Siti Hediyati (Titiek) Prabowo have ostensibly severed their holiday-home links with this country. But the Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa believes Tommy has simply ‘parked his holding’. Last year, he sold a luxury hunting lodge built for more than $6 million at Lilybank Station high in the Mackenzie Country to a Singaporean associate, Alan Poh, for $1. Mr Poh has turned the loss-making lodge, which once charged more than $700 a night for a room, into a ‘homestay’ with a more modest $250 tariff while he concentrates on developing a deer farm. A spokesman for Mr Poh said the sale was genuine and took account of big liabilities on Lilybank.
“Titiek – whose husband, Prabowo Subianto, headed the Kopassus special military forces accused of atrocities in East Timor, Irian Jaya and Aceh – sold two Queenstown chalets for $498,000 to an Indonesian company she is believed to control. Campaign spokesman Murray Horton says New Zealand’s peacekeeping role in East Timor makes it imperative to find out if any ‘blood money’ remains in Queenstown.
“He and the Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee want the inquiry extended to properties held by ’cronies’ of the Suharto family, and to corporate links between them and New Zealand. Weekend Herald inquiries confirm that the son of long-serving Suharto cabinet minister Radius Prawiro has four chalets in the same Queenstown subdivision as the Prabowo property, and visits often with a retinue of children and servants. The Prawiros are believed to control at least 81 Indonesian companies, including joint ventures with Suharto concerns.
“Australian-based Indonesian corruption researcher Dr George Aditjondro wants the Government to also investigate the man who introduced the Prabowos and Prawiros to Queenstown, businessman Firdaus Siddik. Mr Siddik is in Indonesia and could not be reached for comment on a claim by Dr Aditjondro, a defence witness for Time, that he had Suharto links through a Dutch bank. But Queenstown property agent Mae Young described Mr Siddik as a generous man who had done a lot for the town, including building a community ice-skating rink. Another Queenstown property source said he had heard that Mr Siddik, who chairs the New Zealand-Indonesia Business Council, had been offered a powerful regulatory position in the new Indonesian Government.
“The campaigners claim that some corporate links with the Suharto regime reach further than just into resort playgrounds. Foremost in their sights is Brierley Investments Ltd, which owns 30% of Air New Zealand and a big chunk of New Zealand’s fishery through its half share in Sealord. Brierley is effectively controlled through a 24.4% stake by the Malaysian-based Camerlin consortium of Chinese investors, which includes the Salim Group of Suharto’s main financial backer, Liem Sioe Liong. Mr Liem, who supplied stores to Suharto’s military unit in the 1940s anti-Dutch independ-ence struggle, exploited monopoly concessions dispensed in return for his financial services to become Indonesia’s richest man.
“Brierley had an even more direct link with the Suharto regime by having to take Tommy Suharto as a minority shareholder in its troubled $1 billion Wayang Windu geothermal power project near Bandung in Java. The Suharto son bowed out of the project after his father was toppled from power, but Brierley has yet to be paid for a 15% ‘carried interest’ held by Indonesian shareholders. Brierley, with a 75% share, has written off its $420 million investment in the project.
“And New Zealand State-owned electricity generator Mighty River Power does not expect to see much return from its 10% of the project, inherited from the Government’s carve-up of ECNZ. Brierley chairman Sir Selwyn Cushing admitted the geothermal venture had been ‘a terrible experience’, but referred all questions to chief executive Greg Terry, whom the Weekend Herald could not reach in London.
“Murray Horton’s group also criticises the involvement in Indonesia of Edison Mission Energy, which bought 40% of electricity generator and retailer Contact Energy from the New Zealand Government in 1999. The Wall Street Journal said Edison and General Electric gave Titiek Prabowo and other Suharto associates slices of an overpriced 1230MW coal-fired power station now caught in the same bind as the Brierley project”.
The article uncovered things that we didn’t know – that Titiek has sold her Queenstown chalets for $498,000, to an Indonesian company that she is believed to control; and that Tommy is no longer directly involved with the Brierley subsidiary’s Indonesian geothermal project. On the other hand, it doesn’t mention one whole area of suspected Suharto crony investment in New Zealand – namely that of the mysterious Perfect Match Investments Ltd, which owns or is involved with Winstone Pulp and its extensive forest and milling business, and Auckland central business district hotels and office buildings, through another subsidiary. Mathew tried valiantly, including the above mentioned legwork in Hong Kong, but he couldn’t tie up the loose ends, so decided to leave Perfect Match out of the story (see Watchdog 92, cover story, for what we know about it.). There’s still plenty of angles to be investigated. It was heartening to see the country’s biggest paper devote major attention to this story. And the story is attracting overseas attention. CAFCA was contacted by an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio journalist preparing a documentary about Suharto assets in Australia – he wanted to compare the situation with NZ.
Slowly, Very Slowly, The Noose Tightens On Suharto
Unlike Marcos and Mobutu, his two contemporary kleptocrats and mass murderers, Suharto did not flee the country when he was overthrown. He didn’t even leave town. He stayed put, in a very nice part of Jakarta, heavily guarded by the military. His house has a private gateway that connects to the homes of his six children. A caged parrot still says “Good morning, Mr President”. The house also contains a private clinic, which is just as well, because he has been advised not to make his usual trips to Germany for medical treatment. The Pinochet case put the wind up a lot of blood-stained dictators who were used to popping over to the First World for medical treatment or a bit of shopping.
Suharto’s loyal Vice President, B.J. Habibie, succeeded him, in 1998, and faithfully protected the man that Habibie regarded as a surrogate father. There were half hearted investigations of Suharto and his heroically corrupt children. The one against the father was dropped, in the final stages of Habibie’s presidency, for “lack of evidence”. Tommy was the only offspring to face criminal charges – he was acquitted.
But the 1999 election, which brought Wahid to power, reinvigorated the investigations and a number of probes were opened into all the Suharto family. Attention initially focused on the “charitable foundations” controlled by Suharto, the means by which he amassed and stashed his billions in illgotten gains. By April 2000, the Government was seizing documents relating to these foundations, and talking of seizing buildings and other assets (providing just the right precedent for New Zealand and other countries hosting Suharto assets). Prosecutors have taken to regularly interrogating Suharto – he has followed Pinochet’s line. “I’m only a sick old man (he’s 79), who can’t remember anything”. He has had health problems, commensurate with his age, and his lawyers and supporters have exploited those to the maximum in keeping the heat off him. But essentially, it’s only a delaying tactic. Firstly, he was put under “city arrest” (whatever that is); now he’s under house arrest, and becoming increasingly cut off from the rest of the world. This is apparently what he fears the most (followed closely by being allowed to fall into the hands of the crowds of student protesters who regularly fight pitched battles with the police and soldiers guarding the family compound). House arrest and social isolation are exactly what Suharto imposed on his overthrown predecessor, Sukarno, until the latter’s death.
Suharto has been in one court battle already, and lost it completely. In 1999, Time ran a cover story entitled “Suharto’s Billions. Luxury homes, fine art and private jets – our special investigation uncovers the former Indonesian leader’s staggering family fortune” (24/5/99). Time’s special investigation was spearheaded by George Aditjondro (who merited a sidebar all to himself in the article). Time concluded that the Suhartos had amassed $US73 billion over the course of their 32 year dictatorship, but that it had shrunk to a mere $US15 billion by 1999. Suharto vehemently denied it all and sued Time, in the Indonesian courts, for $US27 billion. In June 2000, the case was thrown out without getting to trial – the judges ruled that Suharto had presented no evidence to back his suit, and that the Time claims were true. Suharto said that he’ll appeal, but he’s grasping at straws. It would have been an interesting situation if it had come to trial – George Aditjondro is in Australian exile, still wanted in Indonesia on a charge of “insulting the Government”, and had been advised that his safety and liberty could not have been guaranteed if he’d returned to Jakarta as Time’s star witness.
Indonesian public pressure to punish Suharto, his children and cronies is immense. One student rally carried a two kilometre long banner, bearing four million signatures calling for his trial, which was wrapped around the Attorney-General’s office. The Government knows that it must do something, and has promised a decision on whether to prosecute or not, by August 2000. In the case of some of the leading cronies, it has already acted decisively – Bob Hasan, former billionaire logging baron and crony par excellence, is in prison pending investigation. Suharto’s military backers are no longer the powerful force they were in 1998 when he was overthrown and they insisted that nothing be done to humiliate a former President. General Wiranto has been blood-lessly dumped as Armed Forces Commander; the other generals are looking to protect themselves now, from a welter of investigations into human rights abuses in East Timor and the rest of Indonesia, not to mention numerous corruption investigations into the military.
Suharto still has a sinister influence – his supporters are regularly blamed for the repeated outbursts of murderous communal and religious violence that continue to wrack whole regions of Indonesia. Destabilisation is the aim, and an ongoing security crisis diverts attention away from who caused the crisis in the first place. Some of the very worst human rights abusers from the Suharto era have been untouched. Take the case of his son in law, Prabowo Subianto (his wife Titiek owned, and may still own, the Queenstown chalets mentioned above). Prabowo was the commander of the Kopassus (special forces), and they were legendary for their murderous brutality, in East Timor, Jakarta, West Papua, Aceh, and throughout the entire archipelago. Personally, he was a thug and torturer. He made his bid for power as his father in law was on the way out – he lost, and General Wiranto became the Armed Forces Commander. Prabowo went into Jordanian exile (the King is his close friend). By May 2000, he was sufficiently emboldened to announce his return to Jakarta – there is no suggestion that he will ever stand trial for his innumerable crimes against humanity.
Wahid has dampened down any suggestion of Suharto going to prison. He has said that if Suharto is tried and convicted, he will pardon him. The latest offer is to pardon Suharto if he turns over ill gotten money – Wahid said that he’d expect Suharto to turn over at least $US25 billion. There is no clue as to whether Suharto will do this, but regional precedents do not favour Wahid. Ever since the 1986 overthrow of Philippines dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, (who died, in US exile, in 1989) successive Philippine governments (not to mention 10,000 human rights victims who won an American class action suit against his estate) have unsuccessfully tried to get any of his stolen billions out of Imelda Marcos and her children.
Only time will tell whether Indonesia’s and East Timor’s long suffering peoples will ever see any justice done, in Indonesia, to Suharto, his family, cronies, and their legions of State terrorists. Beyond the moral imperative of international solidarity with the poor and oppressed against mass murderers, thieves and tyrants, that is not CAFCA’s primary concern. We can do our small bit here by holding an official Inquiry into NZ assets of the Suhartos and their cronies, and by seizing those assets. For a pleasant change, our Government is actually, partially, heeding this call. It’s the job of CAFCA, the Indonesia Human Rights Committee, and our supporters and allies to see this through.
Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. December 1999.
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