Indonesia filed a $440m civil lawsuit against Tommy Suharto, the youngest son of the country's former dictator, on Monday for allegedly illegally buying back a car company he surrendered to the government after being unable to pay debts during the Asian financial crisis.
The case against Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra and five companies believed to be involved in the deal is the government’s third attempt to recoup some of the $35bn (€22.6bn, £17.8bn) corruption watchdogs claim the Suharto family stole during the former president’s 32 years in office which ended in 1998. Tommy defeated the government’s previous two suits against him, both linked to an alleged land scam in 1995, but served five years in prison for ordering the assassination of the judge who initially convicted him in the first case.
The latest case involves Timor Putra Nasional (Timor), the company running the “national car programme” that Suharto gave Tommy control of in 1996. Tax breaks meant he could undercut the competition.
In 1998, during the financial crisis, Tommy’s Humpuss Group surrendered Timor to the government’s asset restructuring agency after being unable to pay debts of Rp4,576bn ($500m). The agency sold it to Vista Bella Pratama in May 2003 for Rp512bn, which sold it on to Amazonas Finance, a British Virgin Islands company, the following month.
Dachamer Munthe, a prosecutor, said the money Vista Bella used to buy Timor Putra Nasional came from Humpuss, via Mandala Buana Bakti. This violated the law which banned former owners reacquiring or helping to buy assets surrendered to the government during the crisis. Tommy and the above companies are the defendants in the suit.
Mr Dachamer said that if the government won, it would use the verdict to claim €36m Tommy’s money that has been frozen in a BNP Paribas bank account on Guernsey on suspicion of being acquired corruptly.
O.C. Kaligis, Tommy’s lawyer, said the case was “an act of desperation” by the government. “They’ve lost the first two cases and I suppose they will keep on trying anything to get the Guernsey money,” he said. “We have strong evidence to show there was no collusion.”