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Indonesian Police Net Ex-Ruler's Son After Yearlong Hunt

Asia: 'Tommy' Suharto, a suspect in a judge's killing, is arrested without incident and treated with deference.

November 29, 2001|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the fugitive son of former Indonesian dictator Suharto, was arrested Wednesday after more than a year on the run and held as a suspect in the killing of a Supreme Court judge.

For days, police had been on the trail of the onetime billionaire playboy who became Indonesia's most wanted man. Officers confronted him in a first-floor bedroom of a house in south Jakarta where he had been taking an afternoon nap, and he gave himself up without incident.

Although Hutomo--who is widely known as Tommy Suharto--embarrassed the authorities by eluding them for months, police treated him with remarkable deference after his arrest. Officers brought him without handcuffs to the central Jakarta police station, where Police Chief Sofjan Jacoeb greeted him with a hug.

Then Jacoeb and Tommy made a joint appearance before a crowd of reporters. They sat side by side as the chief described how police had apprehended the former president's son. "Since he surrendered himself well, we treated him well," Jacoeb said.

Tommy, 39, wearing a T-shirt and appearing at ease next to the police chief, said he would explain himself at a later point. "I will give information when it's time," he said.

During his father's reign, Tommy personified the excesses of the corrupt and brutal regime. He owned interests in airlines, hotels, oil and timber and at one point bought the Lamborghini car company. He cornered the lucrative market in cloves--a key ingredient in Indonesian cigarettes--and headed a failed venture to build an Indonesian car.

At the peak of Indonesia's economic crisis in 1998, he arrived at a news conference to defend his father in a blue Rolls-Royce.

Political upheaval brought on by the Asian economic collapse forced Suharto to step down in May 1998 after 32 years in power. The family, alleged to have stolen billions, soon came under investigation.

The elder Suharto, now 80, has avoided prosecution because of alleged illness. Initially, Tommy was acquitted of charges that he stole $11 million in government funds.

But a Supreme Court panel headed by Judge Syaifudin Kartasasmita reversed the decision last year and sentenced Tommy to 18 months in prison. Kartasasmita's widow said the judge turned down a $200,000 bribe he was offered to acquit Tommy.

Tommy disappeared in November 2000 before he could begin serving his sentence. While he was on the run, he was accused of trying to destabilize the regime of then-President Abdurrahman Wahid and blamed for a variety of crimes, including the deadly bombing of churches last Christmas Eve.

It is not clear where Tommy hid for the past year, but some have accused military factions that once supported Suharto of sheltering the fugitive.

In July, gunmen on motorcycles killed Judge Kartasasmita while he was on his way to work. Two of the alleged gunmen were arrested and claimed that Tommy paid them $10,000 to kill the judge.

In a series of raids after the killing, police found weapons in a house that Tommy allegedly had been using. Among the items recovered was a false identification card showing the former president's son with a beard and going by the name Ibrahim. Authorities put the photo on a wanted poster, and thousands of copies were dropped by helicopter over Jakarta, the capital.

In October, a different Supreme Court panel overturned Tommy's corruption conviction. But now he faces possible charges in the killing of the judge and possession of illegal weapons, authorities said.

"His status is a suspect, detained for involvement in several cases, including illegal arms possession and the murder of Supreme Court Judge Syaifudin Kartasasmita," Jacoeb said.

The chief said police were questioning Tommy on Wednesday evening about any role he might have played in the crimes. He also was visited by his wife, his three sisters, his attorneys and friends.

Panda Nababan, a member of the Indonesian parliament who was among the visitors, told reporters that Tommy had denied any involvement in the assassination of the judge.

The police, who once searched Suharto's bedroom and dug under the former president's house in the quest to find Tommy, repeatedly came up empty during their yearlong search.

"He was always moving," Jacoeb said. "Every few hours, he moved from one place to another. But from the result of our tracking, we finally knew those places."

Officers kept the houses that Tommy was known to use under surveillance, and in recent days he was sighted. Jacoeb said police kept watch on him for a couple of days before surrounding the house in the Jakarta suburb of Bintaro and moving in to arrest him.

"We secured all the exits, front doors, back doors, windows, so there was no way for him to run again," the chief said. "Since he knew he was trapped, he surrendered himself."

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