Seize the Suhartos' NZ assets

Lilybank sale fell through

- Murray Horton


Watchdog 96 reported the announced sale of Lilybank, the Mackenzie Country luxury resort bought by Tommy Suharto, in the early 1990s and sold to his business partner, Singaporean Alan Poh, in 1999, for the highly dubious price of $1. In late 2000 it was reported that Poh had sold it, to unidentified North Americans, for up to $10 million. CAFCA asked the Overseas Investment Commission (OIC) for the documentation on this, and received the unprecedented reply that the OIC would neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of any such information. That was as much as we knew when we last reported to you.

In June 2001, Green MP, Keith Locke, asked a series of Parliamentary Questions about Lilybank and the Government’s actions on NZ assets of the Suhartos and their cronies (see previous Watchdogs for details of both these assets and the CAFCA/Indonesia Human Rights Committee {IHRC} joint campaign to have them seized). The reply from Michael Cullen, Minister of Finance, stated that Poh remains the owner of Lilybank, that Tommy Suharto has no stake in it, and Cullen attempted to gloss over the $1 sale by saying that the OIC had found nothing suspicious in it (what a surprise). "Tommy Suharto did not sell Lilybank station to Alan Poh for $1. He sold the shares in a trading company with accumulated losses" (Press, 4/7/01; "Call to stop sale of station"). The OIC then, without explanation, changed its position from "neither confirming nor denying" to refusing our request, on the grounds that the information sought did not exist. Fair enough, but why didn’t it do that in the first place? The lawyer acting for Poh confirmed that the proposed 2000 sale had had conditions which were not fulfilled and that the sale had fallen through. Lilybank, which has long since closed as a luxury resort and reverted to the ignominy of being just another South Island high country sheep farm, remains on the market and was last spotted as one of a number of $10 million + houses and properties being offered overseas for the discerning buyer with an eye for a bargain. As for Tommy, he has been on the run in Indonesia since late 2000, having gone underground to avoid an 18 months prison sentence for corruption. Doubtless he’s waiting for things to get better for leading figures of the old Suharto regime, and all the evidence indicates that they will.

CAFCA and IHRC renewed our calls for Lilybank and other NZ assets of the Suharto family and cronies to be seized. Specifically we asked the Government to freeze any Lilybank sale, to establish just who owns the place and who will get the proceeds of any sale. The media gave it quite large attention (this is one issue on which CAFCA has always had good coverage). Plus we received a rush of completely unsolicited media calls when the very peculiar President Wahid of Indonesia made a very peculiar July 2001 State visit to NZ, which consisted entirely of his spending 18 hours in Christchurch’s Parkroyal Hotel. They all wanted to know if we were organising a protest (no) or knew anything about one (no). Ironically, there actually was a small, spontaneous human rights picket (about which we knew nothing). But we made good use of the media attention to reiterate our call on the Suharto assets. We urged the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, to raise the Suharto assets issue as a top priority, but we have no indication that the issue was even raised at all.

Governments Cooperate

Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in his answer to one of Keith Locke’s Questions, confirmed that two representatives of the Indonesian Attorney General had come to New Zealand, in February 2001, "to coordinate with New Zealand lawyers over options for the possible recovery of former New Zealand assets of Tommy Suharto. That was in line with New Zealand law, to bring to account those responsible for high level corruption. The Indonesian Attorney General was satisfied with the cooperation extended. No request for further assistance has been received".

That particular Attorney General was Marzuki Darusman (see Watchdog 95 for details of the 2000 meeting in Jakarta between him and NZ activist, Aziz Choudry, acting on our behalf, and CAFCA’s subsequent sending to Darusman, at his request, of a list of NZ assets of the Suhartos and cronies). Well, Darusman has been fired, in the general chaos enveloping the highest levels of Indonesia’s government, as Wahid attempted to fight off looming impeachment (he has since been sacked by Indonesia’s Parliament, and replaced by his Vice-President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in July 2001). A new Attorney General was appointed, who said that he intended to track down the fugitive, Tommy Suharto, press charges against cronies, and re-open the aborted corruption case against the ex-President himself (Suharto has been ruled too old and sick to stand trial on anything, just like his fellow old dictator and mass murderer, Pinochet of Chile). He promptly died, of a heart attack and was replaced by his Deputy, the wonderfully named Suparman (who uses just one name, like many other Indonesians). He will definitely need to be Superman to get anything done. When Wahid was in Christchurch, he said that one of Indonesia’s biggest problems (there’s no shortage of others) is that the country needs to find honest judges. He was talking about comparatively minor matters, involving the 2000 murder of New Zealand peacekeeping soldier, Leonard Manning, by militia in East Timor and the brutal 2000 murder, also by militia, of United Nations humanitarian aid staff in Indonesia’s West Timor. If little or nothing can be done in these straightforward cases (which involve individuals identified as the killers), then the chances are not great of anything untoward disturbing the sleep of Suharto and his minions all the way down the chain of corruption and murder. The June 2001 police and militia assault on a peaceful conference in Java, and the detention for several days of all foreign delegates (including IHRC’s Maire Leadbeater), shows the impunity with which the old Suharto regime forces still openly operate in Indonesia.

Brierley’s Crony Connection

Nor is this just about Lilybank. The Suharto connection goes right to the very heart of corporate capitalism in New Zealand. As I wrote, to the Press, on CAFCA’s behalf: "God forbid that we should agree with Richard Prebble but he’s right when he advises Ministers to tell Brierley’s that it must sell its 30% stake in Air New Zealand because it isn’t a New Zealand company. Indeed one of the biggest shareholders in the Asian consortium that controls Brierley’s is the closest crony of ex-President Suharto, Indonesia’s overthrown dictator (Lilybank is not the only local asset of that family and their mates).

"Air New Zealand hasn’t been an NZ company since Prebble and co sold it in 1988. Once the Brierley’s stake has been divested, let’s learn from the Qantas New Zealand fiasco. A national airline is too vital to be entrusted to the cowboys of the market. Look no further than Singapore Airlines, the other foreign owner of Air New Zealand – it remains very much owned by Singapore’s government" (letter to the editor, 10/7/01). The crony is Liem Sioe Liong, who heads the Salim Group, an immensely rich conglomerate which waxed very fat indeed during Suharto’s 32 year dictatorship.

Indonesia has a new President, and all the indications are that she has aligned herself with the all-important military and the still very powerful forces of the old Suharto regime (which is extremely ironic, as it was Suharto who overthrew her father, President Sukarno, in the 1960s bloodbath, and let him die a lonely and ignominious death under house arrest). So the omens are not good that anything will be done about the Suhartos’ crimes in Indonesia, let alone New Zealand (or anywhere else). We shall have to wait and see.

Indonesia’s internal problems are for the people of Indonesia to resolve. But we can do our bit to help them by acting, in our own country, against those who murdered and stole from them for decades, and against the system in New Zealand that allowed people like them in.

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Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. August 2001.


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