To Our Readers
By DON MORRISON Editor, TIME Asia
For much of the past four months, a team of TIME journalists has been poring over documents, crunching numbers and doggedly pursuing bankers, diplomats, academics and former and current Indonesian officials. The goal of it all: to trace the wealth Suharto and his family amassed during the former President's 32 years in power--the subject of this week's special report. For years, Indonesians have been reluctant to discuss the reach of Suharto Inc., so firm was the President's grip on the country. His overthrow a year ago this week has inspired calls for an official accounting. Yet several of TIME's sources still expressed concern about their safety. "I don't want to die. I have a family. Have pity on me!" said a consultant, pleading with correspondent David Liebhold not to use his name (we obliged). "I waited for him to smile," says Liebhold, "but he didn't."
Such concerns prompted TIME's team, led by Hong Kong bureau chief John Colmey, to take precautions. A radio in the Jakarta hotel suite that often served as the team's headquarters was turned up louder whenever sensitive matters were discussed. Notes were locked away in the hotel safe overnight. Important sources were referred to by code name. Thus, a well-connected businesswoman became "Mother Teresa." And a breakthrough came when "the Dalai Lama," code for an official in the Attorney General's office, finally decided to cooperate. "But if you use my name, I'll kill you," he warned. Recalls Liebhold: "I waited for him to smile, but he didn't."
Nor was the going much easier outside Indonesia. Instead of fearful witnesses, our sleuths encountered layers of nominee companies, bank-secrecy laws and reluctant sources. "For me, the assignment meant a long series of confrontations with stony-faced guards at luxury compounds and short interviews with testy property managers," says reporter Laird Harrison in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he managed to locate two dozen swank Los Angeles addresses tied to Suharto. With similar persistence, London's Kate Noble found that Suharto son Tommy partly owns an 18-hole golf course at Ascot.
The investigation convinced our journalists that it may take years to erase the legacy of corruption and fear that marked the Suharto era. But they found Indonesians to be growing bolder by the day. After weeks of fruitless search for a closely guarded statistic, Suharto's official salary, reporters Jason Tedjasukmana and Zamira Loebis finally found an official who supplied it gladly: $1,764 a month. Explained the bureaucrat: "It's reformasi time."