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I'm no billionaire, Soeharto tells lawyer

Agence France Presse - June 17, 1998

Jakarta – The former Indonesian president, Mr Soeharto, had denied accusations that he amassed billions of dollars while in power, only holding savings from his salary and pensions, his lawyer said on Monday.

"He told me: I have money and this money I keep in Indonesian banks and the money comes from my salary as a former member of ABRI [the Indonesian armed forces] and as president for 32 years," Mr Yohanes Yacob said.

Mr Yacob, who is leading a team of lawyers to defend Mr Soeharto and his family against accusations of corruption, collusion and nepotism, said in an interview on State television that Mr Soeharto was not the owner but merely chairman of a number of foundations.

Public pressure has mounted since Mr Soeharto's resignation on May 21 for an investigation into the wealth of the former president and his family. Estimates of their wealth range from $24 billion to $68 billion.

Critics have also pointed to scores of foundations that Mr Soeharto chaired or was a patron of. They say the foundations were used by the veteran leader and his associates to amass wealth. "If there are people who are not satisfied, saying that Soeharto has abundant savings in foreign banks and wealth everywhere, if they can find it, people can take it for the interest of the nation," Mr Yacob quoted Mr Soeharto as saying.

Mr Soeharto has not spoken in public since he stepped down, and with the exception of Friday prayers, has remained at his residence in central Jakarta.

"It is not that Soeharto does not want to [speak up], he even really wants to explain the situation to the people, but the Attorney-General has yet to complete his investigation and I think this [Soeharto speaking now] would not be ethical," Mr Yacob said.

The Attorney-General, Mr Sujono Hanafiah Atmonegoro, who was sacked yesterday by Mr Soeharto's successor, President B.J. Habibie, has said his office had a team investigating the wealth of officials and former officials but did not specifically mention Mr Soeharto.

Mr Yacob said he voluntarily undertook to defend the Mr Soeharto family out of faith that the veteran leader was innocent of the charges. He was not seeking remuneration for his services. He has said Mr Soeharto gave him power of attorney over his affairs on June 1 to defend him and his family from the accusations.

His team would tackle the issue on legal, economic and political fronts. "We, the team of lawyers, are to neutralise and straighten out recent reports by the printed and electronic media which I see, hear and analyse and deem to have already handed down a guilty verdict on Soeharto and his family," he said.

Mr Yacob said the team had provided documents, including audited financial statements, concerning the Soeharto-linked foundations to the Attorney-General's office. However, the lawyer did not comment on the scores of companies, ranging from oil and gas to real estate, plantations, television, car-making and toll roads, in which Mr Soeharto's six children have interests.