- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia Tommy Suharto lived like a prince.

A gambler, a race car driver and a millionaire jet-setter with a gorgeous young wife, he had everything except the adoration of his people.

Now, as he sits in Jakarta's notorious Cipinang Prison, nobody may be able to save the favorite son of Indonesia's former strongman, Suharto.

"If a token Suharto family member must be humiliated in public and/or stripped of assets, Tommy Suharto is the most likely candidate, having few friends or allies and most obviously flaunting the value of his position as Suharto's son," author Damien Kingsbury predicted in his 1999 book, "The Politics of Indonesia."

The humiliation of Tommy Suharto, whose formal name is Hutomo Mandala Putra, continues today when the first witnesses are set to testify against him in a central Jakarta court.

He is charged with arranging the assassination of a judge who had sentenced him to prison for corruption. His trial began March 20 when dozens of tough-looking men, who filled most of the court benches, appeared to be the only ones there to lend him support.

Asked whether Tommy Suharto, 39, could expect any sympathy from the public, Teten Masduki, of Indonesia Corruption Watch, said in an interview: "I think there is none, and I think the people are waiting for a fair punishment."

Tommy was the only member of the Suharto clan to be sentenced to jail for corruption. But he never served the time. Among the charges he now faces is that he went into hiding rather than serve the 18-month sentence meted out on Sept. 22, 2000, by a panel of judges headed by Syafiuddin Kartasasmita. Judge Kartasasmita was fatally shot last July.

Tommy Suharto fled after then-President Abdurrahman Wahid rejected his request for clemency in November 2000.

He spent the next year out of sight, an unusual position for the flamboyant businessman who traveled in a Rolls-Royce, invited 3,500 people to his wedding, and once built an international-standard race car track south of Jakarta.

Like his five brothers and sisters, Tommy Suharto prospered under the system of widespread corruption and crony capitalism established during his father's repressive 32-year rule.

Earlier this month, a Jakarta court rejected attempts by state prosecutors to reopen corruption proceedings against the elder Suharto, who uses only one name.

The court said former strongman remains too ill to face charges that he misappropriated $571 million.

In 1994, Tommy Suharto and a partner bought the Lamborghini sports car company, but it lost money and he sold the Italian firm four years later.

It was Tommy Suharto's involvement in a separate Indonesian automobile venture that Mr. Kingsbury said partly led to the collapse of the Indonesian currency in 1998 an economic crisis the country has not yet overcome.

Tens of millions of Indonesians remain unemployed, and many of those with jobs struggle to earn even $3 a day.

Mr. Kingsbury said the younger Suharto had a "highly questionable business record," and the car scandal outraged not only international investors but also domestic industry, the military and even his own family.

Billed in 1996 as an attempt to create a "national car" for Indonesia, Tommy Suharto's Timor company simply imported ready-made automobiles from Korea, thanks to generous concessions from his father.

State and private banks were later forced to cover Timor's losses from poor sales.


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