Tommy Suharto

One Who Was Never Put To “Good Character” Test

- by Murray Horton

We can’t conclude this historical examination of the “not of good character” issue without mentioning the most notorious one who got away, namely Tommy Suharto (or Tommy Klepto as we renamed him in Watchdog throughout the 1990s). Type his name/s into the excellent Site Search facility at to refresh your memory about him. For the most succinct summary of the view of him by the then Overseas Investment Commission (OIC) and its then head, Stephen Dawe, here is a short extract from Watchdog 107, December 2004 (it is part of an article I wrote about the Shania Twain high country purchases – see elsewhere in this issue for the latest on that subject).

“ As Bruce Ansley wrote in his Listener Shania Twain cover story (9/10/04): ‘…A new look for the land grab is overdue: the last one was dismal from the outset. It was tainted by Hutomo ‘Tommy’ Suharto, son of the Indonesian dictator. He bought Lilybank, a prime station at the head of Lake Tekapo. Even the limp strictures of the time required foreign purchasers to be of good character. Suharto was already a thug and a crook. He is now serving a 15 year sentence for a series of offences, including paying a hitman to murder a judge. Under Suharto management, huts were burnt, public access denied. Even in a regime that urges the OIC not to be so tough as to unbalance ‘a welcoming approach to investment’, few would defend the Lilybank decision now. ‘The (National) government was so keen to accommodate him’, says the High Country Accord’s chair, John Aubrey. ‘It was a disgrace’.

“The OIC’s head Daweman was having none of that. He promptly wrote to the Listener (30/10/04; ‘Foreign Owners’): ‘…This is wrong in two respects. First, there was not a required good character test when Tommy Suharto bought Lilybank in 1992. The good character requirement was introduced in March 1994. Second, the convictions of Suharto that may have questioned his good character did not occur until significantly after these dates. The OIC has explained this often to many in the media, including the Listener, in an unpublished letter submitted after an earlier article. The OIC has also explained it publicly to the Finance and Expenditure Committee and its explanation forms part of the public record of those meetings…’. Touchy, touchy. Note that Dawe said that Tommy’s convictions, including arranging a contract murder of a judge, only ‘may have questioned his good character’. Based on that, we’d hate to meet someone that the OIC thought might actually be of bad character”.

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Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. May 2010.


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