By: Roy Simson

More than 17 years after the Indonesian strongman Suharto fell and more than seven years after his death, the family probably retains enough clout in Jakarta to defy a Supreme Court ruling that they must repay about $325 million gained from massive corruption during his years in power.

Even that amount is a tiny fraction of what the Suharto family is believed to have stolen. Successive governments have half-heartedly tried to recover funds rumored to be between US$15 billion and US$35 billion. After he died at the age of 86 in 2008, authorities made little effort to go after his six super-rich children, all of whom benefited from government contracts and easy finances. They remain fabulously wealthy and retain significant economic power, with Suharto’s daughter Siti Hediati Hariyadi, known as Titiek, a Golkar Party member of parliament. Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putri, the youngest son, controls Humpuss group of companies, which has interests in energy, coal, petrochemicals and transport, while he also owns several resorts in Bali.  The other children also control significant interests in the country and overseas.

W. Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based associate with the Center for Democratic Institutions at Australian National University, says it’s unlikely the money will be repaid although he does say the ruling’s potential significance lies in the fact that the Suharto family may be finally losing its impunity.

Thus the ruling is a very small win for President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, who came to power last year on promises to fight corruption but who has since failed to stop sustained attacks by police against the country’s respected anti-corruption watchdog.

Tommy claimed on his Twitter account that the Supreme Court’s July 8 decision that an education foundation set up by Suharto should repay US$315 million plus Rp139.2 billion ($10.09 million) was an act of vengeance.

Was it really a settling of old scores against the Suharto clan by Jokowi’s political patron, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose father, founder and President Sukarno, was ousted by Suharto? Probably not.

Hendrajit, the executive director of the Jakarta-based Global Future Institute, says the Suharto family and cronies had reached deals with the administration of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that kept them immune from prosecution. He says the Jokowi administration is now renegotiating those deals.

“Jokowi has no serious intention of prosecuting the Suharto children because the main goal is just to disturb their favorable condition,” Hendrajit said.

The case has meandered through the courts for nearly a decade. The Supreme Court’s ruling centered on the Supersemar Foundation, which takes its name from a document Suharto used to formally seize power from Sukarno in 1966. The foundation was established in 1974, ostensibly to providing scholarships to university students. Much of its funding came from state banks, which had to submit 2.5 percent of their total income to Supersemar. State prosecutors found that almost 84 percent of the foundation’s funds had been diverted to a bank and private companies controlled by the Suharto clan and its cronies.