An Indonesian court on Thursday ordered the government into mediation with Suharto, the country’s former dictator, and a foundation he established over a $1.54bn civil suit.
In a brief hearing, the judges followed Indonesian legal custom by appointing a mediator and giving the two sides 30 days to reach a settlement.
Prosecutors allege Mr Suharto used the Supersemar foundation during the last two decades of his authoritarian rule to channel $420m to his family and cronies that should have been allocated to scholarships for underprivileged children.
The state is also demanding more than $1.1bn in damages.
Dachamer Munthe, the lead prosecutor, said he was willing to negotiate on the value of the assets that Mr Suharto, whose rule ended in 1998, should surrender to cover the damages but not on the substance of the complaint.
“We have more than 20 witnesses and a pile of documents this high,” he said stretching his hands more than a metre apart.
Mr Dachamar said he would also like to seize the Supersemar’s office in Jakarta’s central business district but had yet to submit a formal request.
Muhammad Assegaf, one of Mr Suharto’s lawyers, said the defence would fight for as long as necessary to win the case. He predicted mediation would fail and that it would take years to resolve.
He accused the government of playing political games to appease public opinion.
“From the start the government was pushed by the public to take action after the criminal case collapsed in 2000 so they came up with this to show they are serious,” he said. “But there are at least five foundations. Why did they choose only one to sue? If they were confident that the foundations were used for improper purposes they should have sued them all.”
Doctors declared in 2000 that Mr Suharto, 86, who seized power in 1966, was too sick to face criminal prosecution.
Mr Suharto and his family are thought to have amassed a fortune worth tens of billions of dollars while he was in power. In 2004 Transparency International declared him the world’s greatest ever kleptocrat.
Get alerts on News when a new story is published