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Suharto Escapes Prosecution

October 11, 1999

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Former President Suharto has escaped prosecution on allegations of corruption, but his hand-picked successor, B.J. Habibie, risks being kicked out of office when angry lawmakers choose a new head of state next week.

Worst still for violence-wracked Indonesia, the student protesters who drove Suharto from power 16 months ago _ and who have clashed repeatedly with security forces since then _ threatened Monday to hit the streets again.

``We are very angry about this decision. Habibie only wants to protect the old man,″ said one member of the radical Forkot student group, who identified herself only as Dina. ``We will protest again until Suharto is put on trial.″

Earlier Monday, Indonesia’s top legal officer announced he had dropped a corruption investigation against Suharto, citing lack of evidence.

Ismudjoko, Indonesia’s acting attorney general, said a 15-month inquiry uncovered some irregularities by wealthy charitable foundations headed by Suharto, but nothing to prove he illegally enriched himself. Like many Indonesians, Ismudjoko uses only one name.

Opponents said government investigators made no real effort to get evidence against Suharto.

The 78-year-old Suharto has been accused of siphoning millions of dollars of public funds through the foundations to fund his family’s business empire.

The foundations, largely funded by the state, held stakes in everything from property to power generation to mining. They were exempt from paying taxes and from making financial disclosures. Little was known about their activities before they reverted to government control after Suharto left office last year amid the worst economic crisis in three decades.

The former president, incapacitated at his heavily guarded Jakarta home after suffering a series of strokes this year, has denied any wrongdoing. He also rejected accusations that his family stashed a fortune in foreign bank accounts.

``We knew all along this case would be dropped,″ said Danny Kailimang, one of Suharto’s lawyers. ``We respect the attorney general’s office for making a professional decision.″

Several of Suharto’s children remain under separate investigations for corruption, and his youngest son, Tommy, is currently on trial over a land deal.

The decision on Suharto could well sink Habibie’s already dim chances of staying in power on Oct. 20, when the 700-member People’s Consultative Assembly selects a new president for a five-year term.

Habibie vowed to crack down on corruption after he took over from Suharto 16 months ago, repeatedly denying accusations that he would protect his old boss. Now opponents say the end of the probe means that Habibie’s promises have come to nothing.

``It’s going to ruin Habibie’s reputation as well as his chances of being elected president,″ said Dede Oteomo, a political analyst at Airlangga University in Surabaya.

Habibie is already burdened with criticism over his handling of the East Timor crisis and a lingering bank corruption scandal. He did not comment on the prosecutor’s decision Monday.

Some activists suggested Habibie should reject the attorney general’s decision, and either order a continued probe or a new investigation.