Minister Yudhoyono’s Unfinished Assignment

SUSILO Bambang Yudhoyono is not a newcomer when it comes to trying to resolve the Suharto case. Eight years ago, as Minister of Mines & Energy, he went on a mission of peace from then-President Abdurrahman Wahid to ask the Suharto family to give back some of their wealth. At that time, as now, the attempt created a controversy.

Yudhoyono was reportedly chosen because he was suspected to be close to Siti Hardijanti, better known as Tutut. The two were members of the ad hoc committee in the 1997 General Session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). Tutut represented Golkar and Yudhoyono represented the Indonesian Military (TNI). However, Yudhoyono said that they were not close. “Frankly, I don’t know the reason for the appointment. I don’t have [a history] of being close with Pak Harto or his family,” he told Tempo in June 2000.

According to Abdurrahman Wahid, Yudhoyono is a skilled negotiator. He cited the case of environmental damage by the Newmont mining company in North Sulawesi. Yudhoyono was able to urge this American company to pay US$4 million in compensation to the local government. “Who else could do that?” said the former President.

Marzuki Darusman, who was Attorney General at that time, said that the decision to try to reach an amicable settlement—including selecting Yudhoyono as the negotiator—was not discussed in a cabinet session. “That was a sly move on Gus Dur’s part,” said Marzuki to Tempo on Friday last week. “It’s a mystery to me why he chose Yudhoyono.”

Yudhoyono says that he received that assignment after a cabinet session on May 24, 2000. Abdurrahman Wahid explained his view about how to settle the case against Suharto. At that time, the former New Order ruler was charged with suspicion of corruption, and the case was being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office. Abdurrahman said that settling the case required multiple approaches: legal, political and humanitarian. “I was assigned to convey Gus Dur’s view that the [Suharto] family could donate some of their wealth to the state,” said Yudhoyono.

The first meeting took place in early April 2000 at Cendana in Jakarta, home of Suharto. Yudhoyono conveyed the proposal offered by Abdurrahman Wahid. “It is already common knowledge that the Cendana (Suharto) family has wealth, some of which should rightly be donated to the public,” said Yudhoyono. There was no response to the offer. The Suharto family, represented by Tutut, even asked, “What wealth are you talking about?” The second meeting, about two weeks later, proved to be unproductive as well.

After reaching a dead end, the government spun its own story. While in Tehran, Iran, Abdurrahman said that there were signs of an impending agreement between the government and the Suharto family. “Wealth which he wrongfully took from the state will be returned to the state,” said Abdurrahman, in a dialog with Indonesians in Tehran, on June 15, 2000.

Tutut denied there were any such indications, as mentioned by Abdurrahman Wahid. She said that she had already met Yudhoyono, but that there was never any commitment to turn over Suharto’s wealth to the state. “It was conveyed all along that Bapak does not even have a single cent outside the country. He said that if anyone can find such wealth, go ahead and take it and use it for the public’s welfare,” said Tutut. M. Assegaf, Suharto’s lawyer at the time, said he never received a report regarding this negotiation process.

The negotiations never got anywhere. Five months after receiving his mandate, Yudhoyono confirmed that the negotiation process would not be resumed. “This matter has become a public source of controversy,” he said. The government worried that the negotiations would affect the legal process.

Abdul Manan

Tempo Magazine, No. 21/VIII/January 22 – 28, 2008

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