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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 11:55 GMT
Media frenzy over Tommy Suharto
Tommy Suharto in court on first day of murder trial, 20 March 2002
Tommy was on the run for more than a year
The Indonesian media on Thursday reflected the enormous public interest in the trial of Tommy Suharto, who has appeared in court charged with the murder of a judge.

Charges against Tommy Suharto
Premeditated murder
Illegal possession of firearms
Fleeing to avoid an 18 month conviction

All the major Indonesian news web sites have carried the case as their top story, and many have reported Wednesday's opening of the trial down to its last detail.

They noted that former president Suharto's favourite son, infamous for his lavish lifestyle, is now fighting for his life.

Some papers also noted that the rest of the Suharto family were conspicuous by their absence.

Many in Indonesia associate the Suharto name with corruption and greed and it was these allegations that helped to bring down the former president during widespread rioting in 1998.

'Finally!'

The newspaper Jawa Pos echoed a popular sentiment in opening its coverage with: "Hutomo Mandala Putra, alias Tommy Suharto, finally faced the judges."

Tommy Suharto in court on first day of murder trial, 20 March 2002
Tommy could face the death penalty

The BBC's correspondent in Jakarta, Richard Galpin, says that no-one had ever imagined this case would come before the courts, such is the continuing power and wealth of the Suharto family.

The courtroom was filled to capacity as the trial opened on Wednesday and our correspondent says the atmosphere was electric.

The trial is a massive test of the country's legal and judicial systems, which are still seen as being open to corruption.

Death penalty

Tommy Suharto is charged with masterminding the murder of a Supreme Court judge last July, while he was on the run to avoid a prison sentence for corruption.

Tommy declined to enter a formal plea - defendants do not have to do so under Indonesian law. However he has publicly denied the main charge of murder.

If convicted he faces a maximum penalty of death.

The case has been adjourned until 27 March. The court is due to sit for just one day a week and the trial could take up to four months.

Judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita - who had sentenced Tommy to 18 months in prison - was shot dead in broad daylight in central Jakarta as he drove to work.

The prosecution said Tommy had paid two men $10,000 to carry out the killing and had personally given them the weapons. The trial of the two men is already under way.

Tommy Suharto with his Rolls Royce
The president's son was famous for his lavish lifestyle

Prosecutors also said Tommy had initially planned to carry out the murder himself but had changed his mind.

They alleged that Tommy visited Kartasasmita in November 2000 and asked why he had been convicted.

According to the prosecution charge sheet, which was read out in court, Kartasasmita told Tommy to seek a pardon from then-President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Tommy is then alleged to have told the judge: "Sir, if someone is nice to me, I can be nice to him in return but if he is mean I can do worse than what he does to me."

Tommy has also been charged with possession of illegal weapons and being a fugitive from justice.

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Tommy Suharto: Flamboyant playboy
20 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Tommy Suharto jailed to await trial
02 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Tommy Suharto in $2m bribe allegation
01 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tommy Suharto conviction quashed
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tommy Suharto judge shot dead
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