Indonesian prosecutors vowed on Monday to continue pursuing a $1.54bn civil lawsuit against former president Suharto and one of his charities despite mounting calls to drop the case because of his ailing health.
The 86-year-old retired general, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years until ousted in 1998, was rushed to hospital last Friday suffering from anaemia and low blood pressure. Doctors said yesterday he was no longer in critical condition but remained weak.
The incident has caused Suharto sympathisers to intensify demands for legal proceedings against him to be halted.
Dachamer Munthe, the chief prosecutor in the civil case, said it was “in the public interest to continue the case”. “There is no reason to stop,” he told the Financial Times. “We must uphold the law. This is very different to criminal proceedings.”
In the lawsuit, Mr Suharto and his Supersemar foundation are accused of diverting $440m of state funds earmarked for scholarships for underprivileged children to private companies owned by Mr Suharto’s children and cronies. Mr Dachamer said a verdict was expected within the next six weeks.
Efforts to prosecute Mr Suharto for criminal corruption foundered in 2000 after court-appointed doctors said he was too ill to stand trial.
In 2006 the government officially ruled that no further criminal proceedings would be pursued against Mr Suharto, who has suffered two strokes and numerous other illnesses in the last decade.
Under Indonesian law civil charges can be brought even if the defendant is unfit to face criminal prosecution and responsibility passes to a person’s heirs on death.
Hendarman Supandji, the attorney general, said after a cabinet meeting on Monday that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general who rose to prominence during Mr Suharto’s rule, had no power to halt proceedings.
“Presidential pardons can only cover clemency, the dropping of criminal charges, a pardon for a conviction and the restoration of someone’s reputation,” he said. “None of those four categories covers the [Suharto] case.”
Theo Sambuaga, a senior official in Golkar, the largest party in parliament founded by Mr Suharto in the 1960s to legitimise his autocracy, said on Monday the party had formally requested all legal proceedings against Mr Suharto be stopped.