Subject: Time Magazine Finds New Soeharto Evidence, Will Keep on Fighting

The Jakarta Post

Friday, January 18, 2008

'Time' to keep on fighting Soeharto

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Time magazine claimed to have found new evidence allowing it to challenge a US$105.2 million Supreme Court judgment against it won by former president Soeharto, the publisher's lawyer told a seminar on Thursday.

Todung Mulya Lubis, legal counsel for the weekly, was referring to files that he said provided support for Time reports that $9 billion of Soeharto's money had been transferred from Switzerland to a nominee bank account in Austria.

"We have gathered a number of e-mail messages with Time sources in Austria, Switzerland and New York," Todung said in a seminar held by the Press Legal Aid Society.

"We also have some documents proving Soeharto family business ownership in Hong Kong and house ownership in London, New Zealand and U.S.," he added.

Todung said Time could name all "business circle" figures involved and that "one of them is a minister now".

Soeharto took legal action against Time for a May 1999 cover story titled "Soeharto Inc. How Indonesia's Longtime Boss Built a Family Fortune". The former president didn't prevail in the Central Jakarta District Court or the Jakarta High Court. However, the Supreme Court took the case on appeal, overturning the lower court decisions.

Todung said the defamation ruling against his client had no logical basis because Soeharto no longer had a good reputation.

"Reports of corruption allegations against Soeharto, his family members and cronies have been widely published by all Indonesian media. Even a People's Consultative Assembly decree called for him to be investigated."

The Aid Society analyzed the court's decision in an examination involving seven experts. A report by the society suggested it was proper for Time to publish the story because it was related to public life. The report also said the magazine had acted in accordance with journalistic standards as it had interviewed two Soeharto lawyers and requested confirmation from his family.

The report also said the decision had been unfair because the Supreme Court only considered evidence from the applicant.

It also pointed to the possibility of a conflict of interest affecting the decision, indicating that two Supreme Court justices who heard the case were represented in 2004 by attorneys for Soeharto in a judicial review case.

Bambang Harymurti of the Indonesian Press Council said the Time decision risked becoming a negative precedent for press freedom in the country. "Any media would likely have to close down if they were sued for that amount," he said.

Heru Hendratmoko, chairman of Indonesia's Alliance of Independent Journalists, said press freedom in Indonesia had again come under threat over the past few years.

"In 2001 Indonesia was ranked 40th in the Press Freedom Index, but since 2002 it has dropped down into the 100s," he said, adding there had been attempts to weaken key laws underpinning press freedom.

Todung said Time had until March 21 to submit a request to the Supreme Court. He said the legal team was ready now but preferred to wait because of the current state of Soeharto's health.

"The media is universally portraying Soeharto as a good guy now. We would be fighting against a strong current if we submit the request now. So, we prefer to wait for a while." (alf)

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