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OCTOBER 27, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 42 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Newsmakers
Passage

Stepping Back From Confrontation
That might be the best way to move ahead. A few days before he left for Tokyo, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji told the Beijing press corps he was not going to make trouble by demanding an apology from his hosts for their country's wartime past. President Jiang Zemin pushed that issue when he visited two years ago, and relations between the two countries remained frosty. Zhu made a wise decision. Had he pursued the point, Zhu might have found himself on the defensive. His hosts aren't pleased by the increasing number of Chinese research vessels Japanese coastal patrol planes were finding annoyingly close to their shoreline on an almost daily basis. Still, Zhu (and his hosts, apparently) were glad to keep the public dialogue to "Thank you" and "Let's all be friends here in North Asia." Oh, and may we have some more money, please? Zhu gave the Western-China pitch to PM Mori Yoshiro, encouraging Japan to back Beijing's plan to step up investment in the remote region.

No Deal. Unless . . .
That's the message increasingly shaky Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid apparently delivered to Hutomo Mandala Putra — a.k.a. Tommy — former president Suharto's youngest son. Wahid reportedly met recently with Tommy in a Jakarta hotel room to cut a deal. Tommy didn't quite get his Get Out of Jail Free card —Wahid says he will not interfere with legal procedures and did not recant his earlier pledge to deny Tommy's appeal for presidential clemency. Tommy and business associate Ricardo Gelael were confirmed guilty by the Supreme Court on Sept. 22 of a 1997 $10.8-million land-scam. Is Wahid telling the truth? There is speculation that Tommy could go free, and charges dropped against the rest of the family, if they agree to return the billions of dollars they allegedly amassed during the 32-year Suharto era. Meanwhile, Wahid quickly came under fire from legislators who say he should never have met with Tommy.

Most Likely Not the Last Roundup
It's enough to make you think financial impropriety is actually frowned upon in India. Three major corruption scandals have come to a head recently. Former PM P.V. Narasimha Rao was convicted for bribing MPs way back in 1993; the ex-chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha Jayaram, was found guilty in a 1996 crooked land deal while in office and the London-based billionaire-brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja, were charged in a 1986 arms kickback deal with the Swedish firm Bofors. Rao and Jayalalitha's cases are largely settled but it is the ancient Bofors case that is surprisingly the most politically sensitive. Knowing they were next in line for indictment (assassinated ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi and an Italian, Ottavio Quattrocchi, have been implicated over the years), all three Hindujas recently gave up their Indian citizenship to become either British or Swedish nationals. That might help, but the Central Bureau of Investigation says it will try to have the trio extradited if they don't cooperate. On top of that, the siblings still own a truck-building firm (Ashok Leyland) and a 1,040-megawatt power plant project in Andhra Pradesh. Having visions of three cooked geese living in either exile or jail? Don't be so sure. The Hindujas are close to scores of Indian leaders and are known to be personal friends of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Will they be tried? Maybe a better question is "who was foolish enough to give the go-ahead to charge them in the first place?"

Passage

ARRESTED Alip Agung Suwondo, 43, former masseur to President Abdurrahman Wahid and a key player in a $4-million scandal that could ultimately bring down the president. Suwondo was reportedly Wahid's go-between in a series of talks with Sapuan, the former deputy director of Bulog, the government agency which oversees the distribution of basic commodities like rice to the public. Sapuan is being tried for his role in the apparently unauthorized dispersal of about $4 million from Bulog's employee benefits foundation. Wahid admits to trying to release some money from the fund, but claims to have changed his mind — though the money apparently was transferred in January. Suwondo has been sought by police for months in connection with the scandal.

ELECTED Tanaka Yasuo, 44, the award-winning novelist and political novice, to be the next governor of Nagano Prefecture, near Tokyo, on Oct. 15. Tanaka's victory ended 41 years of rule by two former top bureaucrats in the prefecture's office, the 74-year-old incumbent, Gov. Yoshimura Goro. and his protEgE, vice governor Ikeda Fumitaka, 58, who was the victim of Tanaka's upset victory. The outcome is a clear message to major parties across the political spectrum that Japanese voters are no longer content to continue putting party hacks in power — Tanaka called the election a contest between "the bureaucracy and the people."

TO BE RELEASED James Mawdsley, 27, the British human rights activist sentenced in Myanmar to 17 years in prison in September 1999, will be deported to Britain soon, though the date is not yet set. Foreign Office Minister John Battle said he was given the news by Yangon's ambassador to London Kyaw Win.

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