Indonesian judges began hearing a civil lawsuit yesterday against dictator Suharto aimed at recovering some of the millions of dollars he allegedly stole from the state during his 32-year rule.
The court was in session for just 20 minutes before judges ordered state prosecutors and lawyers for Suharto to try to reach a settlement among themselves.
Indonesian law requires a good-faith effort at settlement before proceeding in civil cases. The court gave the parties one month to reach a deal before moving ahead with the case.
The lawsuit follows an unsuccessful attempt in 2000 to launch criminal proceedings against Suharto over alleged corruption. Suharto's lawyers at that time prevailed, arguing the 86-year-old was too sick to stand trial.
The current suit seeks US$1.54 billion in damages and missing funds. It alleges money was channeled from the Indonesian Central Bank through state-owned banks to a Suharto-headed fund, which was was said to finance education scholarships, but the money was never accounted for.
"We just want the money back," prosecutor Dachmer Munthe said.
Suharto lawyer Mohamed Assegaf has repeatedly denied Suharto was corrupt. He said yesterday it was unlikely that the case could be settled directly between the two parties and predicted it would take years for the judges to rule.
He declined to comment on the details of the suit, saying only that he intended to argue it had been filed illegally. Munthe said he was confident the lawsuit was legal.
Local and international anti-graft groups have alleged that Suharto and his family siphoned off billions of dollars in state funds during his rule.
Suharto has also been accused of presiding over massive human-rights violations, including the murder of as many as a million people in an anti-communist purge in the 1960s and the deaths of tens of thousands in restive provinces.