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Suharto’s Son Denies He Was a Fugitive

June 5, 2002

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ The son of Indonesia’s ex-dictator Suharto startled a packed courtroom Wednesday when he jumped up and asserted that he was never a fugitive from justice as prosecutors charge.

Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy, is accused of masterminding the assassination of Judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, who sentenced him to 18 months in prison for a multimillion-dollar real estate scam in September 2000. Tommy also faces charges involving weapons and his flight after the graft conviction.

Tommy _ who has repeatedly taken on the role of defense attorney with his loud outbursts and habit of grilling witnesses in the three-month murder trial _ insisted the fugitive charge was just a misunderstanding.

``I was never a fugitive,″ Tommy yelled out. ``I was waiting to hear about my amnesty from the president. To escape, I would have fled from jail. I wasn’t in jail at the time.″

Tommy was responding to witness testimony from Fachmi, one of the prosecutors in Tommy’s earlier graft trial. Like many Indonesians, Fachmi uses only one name.

Fachmi said prosecutors had a warrant for Tommy’s arrest but couldn’t find him. They tried unsuccessfully to reach him at home, and then tried to make the arrangements through his attorney. Frustrated, they finally reported Tommy as missing.

Later in the day, two witnesses came to Tommy’s defense. One of them, Kenedi Sirait, insisted that Tommy never threatened Kartasasmita, as his indictment suggests.

The indictment quotes Tommy as having told the judge, ``If you’re nice to me, I can be better to you. But if you’re nasty, I can be nastier.″

Sirait said Tommy only met the judge to get a status report on his case. ``I never heard him say those words,″ said Sirait, who accompanied Tommy to a meeting with the judge on April 2000.

Tommy’s trial is seen as a test of Indonesia’s ability to bring previously untouchable public figures to justice _ and to reform notoriously corrupt public institutions.

Corruption charges against Tommy’s father, aging former dictator Suharto, were suspended after a court ruled he was too sick to stand trial. Prosecutors this week are expected to re-examine the 80-year-old Suharto following a media report suggesting his health had improved.

A journalist from the Bali Post newspaper reported seeing him walking and talking animatedly at a wedding in the capital, Jakarta, last month.

Tommy’s trial continued Wednesday afternoon, with friends of Tommy expected to take the stand in his defense.

Two men, Noval Hadad and Mulawarman, were convicted of shooting Kartasasmita and have been sentenced to life in prison. In a separate trial, Dodi Hardjito was found guilty of recruiting Hadad and Mulawarman. He was given a four-year jail sentence.

Tommy went on trial in March on charges of masterminding the murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.