Son of Former Indonesian Dictator Suharto Paroled

The youngest son of former dictator Suharto was paroled from prison Monday after serving less than a third of his 15-year sentence for ordering the assassination of a Supreme Court judge.

The speed with which Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy, served his sentence left some questioning whether anything has changed since pro-democracy riots forced his father to step down in 1998 following 32 years of brutal and corrupt rule.

Members of Suharto's family were considered untouchable during his reign, and few have been punished since.

The 44-year-old former playboy chatted with friends inside his black luxury van as he left the jail in eastern Jakarta with hordes of photographers and TV crews blocking the path of his convoy. They banged on the roof of his car and briefly scuffled with police as they desperately tried to snap pictures. Tommy remained calm, occasionally looking up and smiling from beneath his gray baseball cap.

Tommy — who like all of Suharto's children amassed a vast fortune and lived a lavish lifestyle during the 1980s and '90s — was found guilty in 2002 of illegal weapons possession, fleeing justice and ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge who had earlier convicted him of graft. The two motorcycle gunmen who killed Syafiuddin Kartasasmita each got life sentences.

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Tommy's original 15-year sentence was reduced to 10 on appeal. Following several lengthy reductions for good behavior, he served two-thirds of the remaining time, making him eligible for release on parole, officials said. He served four years and three months in all.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla insisted that Tommy was treated like all other inmates.

"This is a state of law," he told reporters. "Tommy completed his sentence. ... He should be released."

But many people disagreed.

"It's been clear from the beginning of this case that Indonesia's judicial system failed," said leading human rights activist Asmara Nababan, noting that the criminal code says the mastermind of a murder should be punished more severely than the killers.

Tommy also had special privileges while serving time, including a private cell and several temporary releases for health reasons.

At one point, Tommy was said to control a business empire worth $800 million. While some allege that he bribed judges and prison and government officials, they offered no evidence to back up the claims. His lawyers have refused to comment.

Under the terms of his release, Tommy will have to report to authorities once a month until July 12, 2009. He will be allowed to leave the country if he gets permission and "go about his life like any free man," said prison head Wibowo Joko Harjono.

Tommy, one of six Suharto children and considered to be the favorite, headed straight to his father's mansion in Jakarta on his release.

Suharto was indicted in 2000 on charges of embezzling $600 million in state funds, but legal proceedings against him have been abandoned because of his poor health. He is rarely seen in public.