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Suharto's Son Found Guilty of Murder - 2002-07-26

An Indonesian court has found the son of the country's former President guilty of masterminding the murder of a supreme court judge. Tommy Suharto now faces 15 years in prison.

The panel of judges hearing the Tommy Suharto case said it was true that Suharto hired two men to kill a Supreme court justice and that he supplied the murder weapon. Therefore, they said, Suharto is guilty.

Suharto now faces 15 years in jail on murder charges, illegal weapons charges, and charges he evaded justice.

The landmark decision came after hours of delay on Friday. Court was suspended for several hours after Suharto failed to turn up for the hearing. Suharto's defense team said their client was ill and a medical team was sent to examine him in Jakarta's Cipinang prison.

Later however, the judges ruled that the proceeding would go on without him and they began to read out the court's decision. The move prompted Suharto's defense team to leave the court in protest.

Two men riding a motorcycle gunned down Chief Justice Syafuddin Kartasasmita in broad daylight in July 2001. State prosecutors say it was Tommy Suharto who hired them and provided the gun.

Both men were given sentences of life in prison. Both men also denied they were hired by Mr. Suharto.

It was Justice Kartasasmita who had sentenced Mr. Suharto to 18 months in prison for corruption, in September 2000. To avoid prison, Suharto went on the run and managed to evade authorities for a year. During his time in hiding, his conviction in the corruption case was overturned.

Tommy Suharto is the youngest son of former President Suharto. Many Indonesians believe the Suharto family used their father's political influence and corrupt means to build massive business empires at the expense of ordinary Indonesians.

The case against Suharto is seen by many in Indonesia as a test of how serious the government is about implementing judicial reform. Indonesia's judicial system has come under criticism for corruption.

Last week, pro-reform groups said they were angry that State prosecutors demanded a 15 year sentence against Suharto. They say that is too lenient a prison term for murder.