Time Magazine Contests Defamation Ruling for Former Indonesian Dictator

Lawyers for Time magazine said they will contest a $106 million libel judgment handed down by Indonesia’s highest court to former dictator Suharto Aug. 31, 2007.

The case arose from the May 1999 cover story “Suharto Inc.: The Family Firm” in Time’s Asian edition that accused Suharto of corruptly amassing $73 billion in assets during his 32-year rule.

Suharto gained power in 1966 following a political and military struggle that left 500,000 people dead, according to The Associated Press (AP). He resigned in 1989 in the face of limited public support and mass demonstrations after a downturn in the Asian financial markets lowered the standard of living for Indonesians, according to The Straits Times (Singapore).

The 1999 Time article accused Suharto and his family of widespread corruption and siphoning government funds. The article accused Suharto of transferring $9 billion from a Swiss bank account to an Austrian account in 1998 on the eve of his departure from office, and amassing other international assets totaling $73 billion.

Suharto filed suit in Indonesia against Time in 1999 alleging the article defamed him and his family. Two lower courts dismissed the suit but the high court ruled for Suharto, granting him one trillion rupiah (about $106 million) in damages, and ordering Time to print apologies, the AP reported.

According to an article in The Straits Times, the ruling contributed to speculation that Suharto still held considerable influence in the Indonesian court system nearly 10 years after his resignation. George Aditjondro, author of two books on Suharto’s wealth, told The Straits Times that Suharto’s son, Hutomo ‘Tommy’ Mandala Putra, served only five years of what had been a 15-year sentence in 2002 for ordering the assassination of a judge.

According to a September 11 AP report, the three-judge panel of the high court that issued the August 31 ruling for Suharto included a former general who rose through the ranks of Indonesia’s military while Suharto led the country.

The Indonesian government tried to charge Suharto for corruption in May 2000, but criminal charges were eventually dropped after doctors ruled he was too ill to stand trial, the AP report said.

After repeated attempts to criminally prosecute the ex-president failed, prosecutors filed a civil suit against Suharto in July 2007 seeking to recover $1.5 billion in damages arising from the disappearance of money from charitable funds, The Straits Times reported. The United Nations (U.N.) made Suharto the subject of a new program to track his international assets on Sept. 25, 2007, The Straits Times reported. He also tops the U.N.-World Bank’s list of the world’s most corrupt leaders.

The AP reported October 11 that Time will ask the Indonesian court to review its previous rulings. A statement released by Time said they had received a translated copy of the ruling, and it gave “little rationale for either the ruling or the amount of the damages.”

“Time magazine will take any legal measures available to defend freedom of the press,” the AP said Time’s lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis told journalists in Jakarta “We believe it is important to uphold justice and the truth.”

- Michael Schoepf, Silha Research Assistant

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on October 21, 2009 12:23 PM.

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