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Suharto Murder Trial Opens - 2002-03-20

The trial of Tommy Suharto, the son of Indonesia's former President has opened in Jakarta. The youngest member of the once-powerful Suharto family faces life in prison if convicted of masterminding the murder of an Indonesian Supreme Court judge.

With the bang of a gavel, a judge at Jakarta's central district court opens the trial of Hutomo Mandala Putra, better known as Tommy Suharto. The youngest son of Indonesia's former president was brought to the courtroom in handcuffs to face charges that he ordered the murder of a Supreme Court judge in July last year. His lawyers say their client is innocent. Mr. Suharto is the first member of the once-powerful Suharto family to be put on trial. He was first convicted in September 2000 of corruption in a multi-million dollar land scam. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but went on the run and managed to elude capture by Indonesian authorities for more than a year. He was apprehended in November.

During his time as a fugitive, the Suharto graft conviction was overturned.

But Indonesia prosecutors say Tommy Suharto ordered the assassination of Supreme Court Judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, the man who sentenced Mr. Suharto to prison for his graft conviction.

To some, Mr. Suharto's ability to evade authorities suggested that the Suharto family still holds influence over Indonesian authorities and he had protection by members of Indonesia's police or military.

Many believe that influence still exists and could affect his trial. Muhammad Asrun is the head of Indonesian Judicial Watch a non-governmental organization. "And I believe the name of Suharto still has influence in this country, including at the judicial power, at the court. Money is not so difficult for Tommy and maybe Tommy can bribe," he said. "And also what can Tommy do, is send his men and terrorize the judge or threaten the judge or something like that."

Roughly 400 police were on hand to ensure security at the court for the high profile case Wednesday. Many Indonesians believe all six of former President Suharto's children used their father's influence to build business empires during his 32 year rule, that ended in 1998. Tommy Suharto is considered the most flamboyant of family, earning a reputation as a playboy during his father's rule.