15-year jail term for Suharto's son

JAKARTA (Indonesia) JULY 26. An Indonesian court on Friday declared the youngest son of the former dictator, Suharto, guilty of paying two hitmen to murder a Supreme Court judge and sentenced him to 15 years in jail.

``The defendant has been proven guilty of all the charges,'' said the presiding Judge, Amiruddin Zakaria.

In addition to murder, Hutomo Mandala Putra, better known as Tommy, was found guilty of illegal weapons possession and fleeing justice.

Another member of the five-judge panel, Andi Samsan Nganro, said Tommy paid Rupiah 100 millions ($11,000) to the two assailants and ordered them to kill the judge, who had sentenced him to an 18-month prison term for corruption.

The murder trial was considered a test of post-Suharto Indonesia's ability to overhaul a notoriously corrupt judicial system.

``It is true that the defendant instructed them (the hitmen) to commit a criminal act and in fact the two carried it out,'' Justice Nganro said. He said the handgun used to kill the judge belonged to Tommy.

With the defendant absent from the courtroom and his attorneys storming out in protest, the five-judge panel began reading the verdict despite defence pleas for a delay. The court proceedings were postponed only temporarily on Friday when Tommy insisted he was sick and asked to see a doctor at his prison cell. The verdict came after a four-month trial marked by frequent courtroom outbursts by the defendant, witnesses recanting their stories and the brief detention of a defence attorney for allegedly bribing witnesses. ``The sentence is too light,'' said Solikin, a street vendor outside the courtroom who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.

``He should have been sentenced to at least 20 years. He ordered the killing of a judge and the judge's killers got life.''

Tommy was convicted of ordering the assassination of Justice Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, who sentenced him to prison in a graft case in September 2000.

The justice was shot dead by the two hitmen riding a motorcycle exactly one year ago. The hitmen have already been given life sentences.

Tommy, who was not present during the verdict, denied any involvement in the murder.

Judge Zakaria rejected pleas by the defence team to postpone the verdict until Tommy could be present.

The six lawyers responded by hastily leaving the courtroom.

``We think our presence in the courtroom without the defendant is useless,'' the defence attorney, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said outside the courtroom. ``It is clear that the judge's decision to continue the hearing has violated the defendant's rights.''

Applause broke out in the courtroom when the rejected the defence plea and began reading the verdict sheet, which is hundreds of pages long.

Earlier, Judge Zakaria read a doctor's report confirming Tommy had a stomach ache and headache.

About 400 policemen carrying batons and handguns patrolled in and around the packed courtroom, where more than 100 people had gathered to hear the verdict.

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