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Suharto assets here may be seized: Goff

Forwarded by Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

25 April 2000 - New Zealand Herald

Eugene Bingham, political reporter

New Zealand-held assets linked to the regime of Indonesia's former President Suharto may be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff said last night that he was offering Indonesia help to secure any part of the Suharto fortune in New Zealand.

Mr Goff is holding top-level meetings with ministers in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, where authorities are investigating allegations that Suharto used corruption to amass up to $1 billion during his 32-year rule.

Campaigners say the Suharto family have property and corporate interests in New Zealand.

"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," Mr Goff told the Herald.

"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 legislation."

One of Suharto's six children, Tommy, had owned the $2 million luxury lodge Lilybank Station near Tekapo but sold it to a Singaporean last year for $1.

Tommy Suharto has also had commercial interests here and a sister was linked to several Queenstown properties.

Mr Goff said the New Zealand connections to any Suharto assets under investigation were probably "small bickies" compared with assets held elsewhere.

"Nevertheless, we act under the law 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."

The Government would not act without the invitation of the Indonesians, however.

"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."

A campaigner for human rights in Indonesia, Maire Leadbeater, last night welcomed Mr Goff's having raised the issue but said she was disappointed he had not gone further.

"There are steps to be taken, such as a proper inquiry, to find out what the assets are and freezing them," said Ms Leadbeater of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

"The United Nations estimates that half of the children in Indonesia are malnourished and that millions do not have enough to eat. The Suharto billions should be repatriated and used to ease hardship and suffering."

Mr Goff yesterday held talks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Alwi Shihab and was to meet President Abdurrahman Wahid last night.

It is the first high-level meeting between the countries since Suharto stepped aside in 1998, triggering the first free and fair elections in three decades and setting in motion political, economic and human rights reforms.

"I am here to offer our support for the reforms they are undertaking," Mr Goff said, "and I do that quite advisedly because it's still a fragile democracy with lots of vested interests that will try to derail the changes that are being made."

He also discussed the East Timor situation, raising the outstanding problem of refugee camps in West Timor, some of which were visited last week by officials from the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta.

"Clearly, while some progress has been made, there is still a militia presence in the camps. My conversation with [Dr Shihab] was to urge on-going action to disband and disarm the militia," Mr Goff said.

"I think there is a desire to do that but the challenge, as always in Indonesia, is to convert a desire on the part of central Government into action in the provinces."

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