Suharto Probe Dropped. Whitewash in Jakarta?

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You’re more likely to get away with corruption if you do it by the book. That may be the lesson from the case of former Indonesian dictator Suharto, who on Monday was let off the hook by a government corruption inquiry that found no evidence that he’d diverted state funds into his own charities — even though it turns out some of those charities were receiving public money and then loaning it to private corporations. But Suharto may be benefiting from the narrow terms laid down for the inquiry initiated by his handpicked successor, President B. J. Habibie. The official probe focused exclusively on Suharto’s charities, and a Habibie aide told the BBC that Suharto could not be prosecuted over the numerous decrees he passed benefiting his family over the national economy because those were made legal by the fact that they’d been passed by his cabinet and the legislature he controlled.

Absolving Suharto may prove to be the final nail in the coffin of Habibie’s own presidential aspirations. Although the country’s traditional elites may be looking for a way to keep out opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, being seen to do a Gerald Ford on his old boss won’t endear Habibie to a restive public that widely suspects Suharto got rich at their expense for decades. After all, Suharto and his family are a regular fixture on Forbes magazine’s lists of the world’s richest people — and that’s quite an achievement for a man from an impoverished background whose employment over the past four decades has been as a military commander and head of state.