Marzuki Darusman had a privileged upbringing. The son of an Indonesian diplomat, Darusman spent his formative years in Europe, where he acquired a taste for the more equitable social norms of the West. Whenever he returned home to the impoverished island of Java, the extreme class and economic differences made Darusman feel awkward in social situations with other Indonesians. "Creating a level playing field," recalls Darusman, "was an elemental obsession."
Now he is getting his chance to bridge the gap--and risking his life to do it. Appointed Attorney General last November, Darusman, 55, is prosecuting cases that symbolize the inequities of Indonesian society. Corruption, mass murder, and human rights abuses during the three-decade rule of former President Suharto are all on the agenda. Indonesia is now trying to hold accountable a privileged class that exploited the vulnerable. "This is a push to create a situation where there is at least a sense of decency and rightness," Darusman says.
His caseload is a wide-ranging corruption investigation of Suharto, his family, and his cronies. The case had been closed in mid-1999 by Darusman's predecessor under pressure from army generals loyal to Suharto. After their leader, General Wiranto, was taken off active duty by President Abdurrahman Wahid soon after his election, Darusman reopened the case. Then he took the unprecedented step of placing Suharto under "city arrest" and putting his closest business associate, Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, behind bars to keep him from tampering with evidence. Prosecutors are studying the records of several "charitable foundations" that were chaired by Suharto and run by Hasan.
Darusman also is prosecuting Wiranto, the former armed forces commander, for crimes against humanity in East Timor. The Wiranto case is based on eyewitness reports that his troops carried out a scorched-earth and mass-murder campaign in the former Portuguese territory last September. The case gave President Wahid the ammunition to boot Wiranto from his powerful cabinet post. It also paved the way for Darusman to convict several Wiranto subordinates for human rights violations in the gas-rich province of Aceh.
Still, Darusman is reluctant to go too far. "We'll have to stop at the point where the public feels that we've settled the scores of the past and not go beyond the point where it would start a witch-hunt," he says. Darusman says he'll throw the book at Suharto and leave clemency "in the domain of politics." Indeed, Wahid has said he would pardon Suharto if the former President is convicted of corruption--and if he turns over $25 billion of his alleged fortune to the state.
INSIDE TRACK. Flanked constantly by bodyguards, Darusman is the third-most-heavily guarded Indonesian government official, after Wahid and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Every day, Darusman's security men change his schedule to confuse would-be assassins. But he's not about to back down. He sees his current job as the challenge he has been preparing for since he went into politics in the 1970s. Convinced that the only way to make a difference is from within the system, Darusman spent 15 years as a member of Parliament for the ruling Golkar party, representing Bandung, West Java, where he graduated from law school. Then he served on the National Human Rights Commission for seven years, investigating complaints against the army of kidnapping, mass murder, and gang rape.
A driving ambition also plays a major part in his character. In 1992, he told an Indonesian magazine that "any self-respecting politician would want to become President." In Suharto's Indonesia, such a phrase was tantamount to submitting one's candidacy. Golkar immediately struck his name from the list of the party's candidates in the 1992 election. Today, Darusman insists that he does "not really" covet the presidency.
He proved his leadership qualities months before he became Attorney General. When Golkar was torn apart last year by a rift between Suharto loyalists and reformists, Darusman led an internal coup and put himself in charge of a pivotal committee to remake the party. He helped galvanize support for Wahid, a tolerant Islamic cleric from outside the party, as a presidential candidate. "I'm not fighting against the system. I'm trying to modify it," he says. So far, Darusman has what it takes to do that.