Suharto family ordered to pay back 'embezzled' funds of $450 million

Former president Suharto and Mrs Tien Suharto (seated centre) in a photo with their children and in-laws in Cendana, Jakarta, in 1993. Under the Supreme Court ruling on July 8 but made public only yesterday, the late president's six children and the
Former president Suharto and Mrs Tien Suharto (seated centre) in a photograph with their children and in-laws in Cendana, Jakarta, in 1993.PHOTO: TEMPO

Indonesia's highest court has ordered former president Suharto's family to pay back millions of dollars that was embezzled from a scholarship foundation in the largest such ruling against the family.

Under the Supreme Court ruling on July 8 but made public only yesterday, the late president's six children and the foundation, Yayasan Beasiswa Supersemar, have to pay the state 4.389 trillion rupiah (S$450 million), said a report in the Kompas daily quoting court officials.

The foundation, created in 1974, was meant to hand out scholarships to students but was found guilty of channelling funds to several companies linked to Suharto's cronies or family members, such as Bank Duta and Sempati Air, the report said.

The latest ruling, filed as a judicial review by the Attorney-General's Office, overturns a 2010 judgment when the judges wrote an incorrect figure for the amount the state claimed.

Instead of writing out one of the claims figures as 139.2 billion rupiah, the judges missed out three zeroes, resulting in the figure that spells out 139.2 million rupiah.

Suharto's 32-year authoritarian rule was tainted by nepotism and rampant corruption and any opposition was silenced. He was forced to step down in 1998 after violent protests.

The case against Yayasan Beasiswa Supersemar is the first to hold the family accountable, analysts said. "This case offers a peek into the cronyism of Suharto's regime," said Mr Keith Loveard, a former journalist who reported during the Suharto years and authored the book, Suharto: Indonesia's Last Sultan.

He told The Straits Times: "There were many foundations and a lot of speculation over what they were being used for. Yayasan Supersemar was among the best known of it all."

An investigation team formed after the fall of Indonesia's second president found seven foundations linked to him catering to a range of services such as welfare of orphans, health and the poor. Only one - Yayasan Beasiswa Supersemar - has been found guilty of misappropriating funds.

On his Twitter account, Suharto's youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra, better known as Tommy, shot back at suggestions of wrongdoing.

"This is revenge disguised as justice," read one of his series of tweets in Bahasa Indonesia on the topic. "Are you prepared to face lawsuits from the beneficiaries of the scholarships who are now grown up?" read another.

"Even in your midst, there are many recipients of the scholarships," he added.

The 53-year-old took a swipe at the judges, asking whether they could read or write since their verdicts had typos.

Many doubt the ruling in this case could lead to similar cases being pursued and, more importantly, whether the court will persist in recovering the money.

"It is a historic case. The question now is whether anything will come out of it," said Mr Loveard.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Suharto family ordered to pay back 'embezzled' funds'. Print Edition | Subscribe