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Suharto’s stolen wealth must be returned - ASIET

April 28, 2000

ASIET statement

Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) welcomes the move by the Indonesian government to try and seize some of former Indonesian president Suharto’s assets, but says this isn’t enough. General Suharto, whose 32-year-long rule resulted in the deaths of more than a million people in Indonesia and East Timor, should be forced to return all his assets, including those abroad.

Last year Time magazine conservatively estimated Suharto’s wealth at US$15 billion. He should pay this back as it was stolen from the Indonesian people.

On April 26, Attoney-General Marzuki Darusman said that some of Suharto’s land and buildings would be confiscated. He said investigations are now underway into whether Suharto’s assets belong to him as an individual or to charitable foundations. Given the dragged out saga to reach this point (including Suharto’s Pinochet-like now I am sick, now I am not - behaviour), it should come as no surprise if it is suddenly discovered that most of Suharto’s billions are difficult if not impossible to track down.

Suharto is being investigated for alleged graft and abuses of power during his term in office. That this investigation is actually taking place is testimony to the power of the pro-democracy movement led largely by students but supported by the mass of Indonesians - who forced Suharto from office in 1998 and set the country on the reform path.

Previous President Habibie and now President Abdurrahman Wahid have been forced by this same pressure to implement a series of reforms, including the present investigation into Suharto’s wealth.

At the same time, however, the Wahid government is pursuing the same neo-liberal austerity agenda as did Suharto. It is ironic that the IMF may well have turned up the heat on Wahid to implement an investigation into Suharto’s assets as a condition of its US$5 billion package.

In the wake of intensified public scrutiny of the IMF and World Bank, and in particular following the mass protests in Seattle last year and more recently Washington DC, the IMF needs to regain some credibility, and this is one lever it has at its disposal.

The investigation is due to return its verdict in August. However, unless the international campaign for Suharto to be bought to justice is stepped up, the inquiry may become a sham as Wahid has already stated he will pardon Suharto if some of the ill-gotten gains are returned. There is more than enough evidence to show that Suharto misused his power over a period of 32 years. He should be tried for his criminal behaviour and return the fortune he amassed at the Indonesian people’s expense.

Just one third of Suharto’s estimated fortune would match the current IMF loan. Paying back what he stole illegally would begin to alleviate the hardship suffered by ordinary Indonesians as a result of the economic crisis which has gripped Indonesia since 1997.

The government and its Western backers know that it will lose all credibility if it doesn’t proceed with this case against Suharto. As Darusman told the Jakarta Post on April 26, ``If the Suharto case is not settled, there will be popular cynicism and actions will even be taken against his relatives.’’

The Indonesian People’s Democratic Party (PRD), the party at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, has demanded that Suharto hand back all his assets, including those abroad. In Australia recently, PRD chairperson and former political prisoner Budiman Sujatmiko said that Suharto should be tried in an international court, because the people had no faith in the Indonesian legal system. He added that the campaign would continue until all the generals who had profited from Suharto’s largesse are bought to justice.

- Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET)

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