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Son of Indonesia's ex-dictator guilty of ordering murder

Saturday, July 27, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The playboy son of former dictator Suharto was convicted Friday of ordering the murder of a Supreme Court justice and sentenced to 15 years in prison in a case that symbolizes Indonesia's struggle to rein in judicial corruption and the abuses that defined the Suharto era.

A verdict like Friday's would have been unthinkable during Suharto's 32-year reign, when the rich and powerful were almost always beyond the law's reach.

Advocates for judicial reform hope the ruling will put other former Suharto cronies on notice -- and possibly signal a more honest approach to doling out justice in a country widely seen as among Asia's most corrupt.

Still, some Indonesians scoffed at the 15-year sentence for Hutomo Mandala Putra, better known as Tommy, saying the 40-year-old tycoon got off easy. His conviction for murder, illegal weapons possession and fleeing justice could have earned him a death sentence.

Critics note the two men convicted of shooting Supreme Court Justice Syafiuddin Kartasasmita received life sentences.

"It hurts very much," declared Kartasasmita's widow, Iwah Setyawati. "This sentence is not enough. I have lost my husband. I have lost everything."

Iwah testified during the trial that Tommy had attempted to bribe her husband, who had sentenced the young Suharto to an 18-month prison term in a September 2000 graft case.

"If you're nice to me, I can be better to you. But if you're nasty, I can be nastier," Iwah quoted Tommy as telling the judge.

Friday's verdict was delivered during a 10-hour proceeding that was most notable for Tommy's absence from the courtroom. His lawyers tried unsuccessfully to postpone the verdict, saying it was unfair to proceed because their client was sick and unable to attend.

Doctors examined Tommy and confirmed he had a stomach ache. A packed courtroom applauded when Judge Amiruddin Zakaria rejected the defense request for a delay and began reading the verdict.

The six-member defense team stormed out of the courtroom in protest.


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