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Indonesia Drops Graft Case Against Former President Suharto

  • Heda Bayron

Indonesia's attorney general has dropped a graft case against ailing former President Suharto, who is suspected of amassing billions of dollars during his 32-year rule.

Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh said the government would halt the prosecution of the former president because of his worsening health. The 84-year-old leader was hospitalized last week and has undergone two surgeries in recent days.

The announcement Friday came just hours after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would defer any decision on the issue because of possible public anger. It is not clear if the president could overrule the attorney general's decision.

Anti-corruption activists in Indonesia condemned the decision, saying it undermines the country's fight against corruption.

"We are very disappointed," said Danang Widoyoko, deputy coordinator of the Indonesia Corruption Watch, an organization that has long demanded the former president face trial. "Suharto is the biggest corruption case in Indonesia. If the government cannot solve this case, I think it would undermine other corruption cases. There are hundreds suspected of corruption especially [involving] the local MPs (members of parliament), mayors, governors, but the decision to stop the Suharto case is I think a discriminative action. Why is a big corruptor released? Why are small corruptors prosecuted?"

The attorney general, however, said the case could be re-opened if there are "new developments" but he did not specify what those might be.

The issue of whether to try the former president has been hotly debated in Indonesia since he was charged in 2000 with allegedly amassing billions of dollars in government funds, accusations he denies.

Suharto family members were also accused of corruption. One son, Tommy, was convicted but that decision was later overturned. Tommy Suharto is currently serving a prison sentence for ordering the murder of the judge who sentenced him to prison for graft in 2000.

Suharto, an army general, seized power in 1967 in a bloody coup and ruled Indonesia tightly until he was forced to step down in 1998 amid widespread protests brought on by an economic crisis. Some analysts blamed the crisis partly on cronyism and corruption.

Despite his record, the former leader remains a relatively respected figure in Indonesia and his party, Golkar, continues to be a major player in national politics.

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Indonesia's Attorney-General Abdul Rahman Saleh said Friday, the decision was made because of the former leader's poor health.

Former President Suharto had been charged with stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds during his 32 years in power.

But government efforts to prosecute him have been stalled due to health issues.

The 84-year-old former leader underwent surgery on Sunday after a colonoscopy revealed bleeding in his digestive system.

He has been hospitalized several times before for the same condition. He also has suffered strokes and heart problems in recent years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
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