Of all the stories of crazed dictators and corrupt regimes built on nepotism, the Suharto legacy might just be the most scandalous. The youngest son to one of the most brutal leaders in recent history, Tommy Suharto’s tale fits somewhere on the same shelf as Pablo Escobar’s and Kim Jung Un’s. Playboy embezzler, convicted murderer, political terrorist and potentially Indonesia’s next President? Tommy Suharto of course denies all accusations that might hurt his campaign in the upcoming elections this month. But lost in the highlands of the Indonesian island of Bali, one of his reportedly corrupt investments has been festering in the tropical jungle for nearly two decades; a paradise in ruins, rotting from the inside. Parisian photographer and explorer Romain Veillon takes us through the ghostly hotel that many believe has been cursed by Suharto’s victims…
While exploring Bali, Romain had the chance to explore this incredible abandoned site, Hotel Pondok Indah Bedugul.
“Mystery surrounds the hotel’s construction,” Romain tells us. “The most likely scenario is that is was an investment project of Tommy Suharto, the son of former Indonesian President. After being sent to jail because of having tried to murder his judge in a corruption case, the hotel was never finished even if it was nearly completed.”
Yes, you read that right, the guy who wants to be the next Indonesian President and is currently leader of the worker’s party, was convicted of murdering a Supreme Court judge and was sentenced to 15 years in 2002. He rarely showed up for his trial and paid supporters to protest for him outside the court instead. He served just four years inside a luxurious carpeted cell and was visited regularly by his girlfriend and even allowed to travel to Jakarta to play golf every now on then on the pretence that he was on medical parole. But of course, this wasn’t Tommy’s first run in with the law. which was so corrupt itself, justice had no chance against him.
In September 2000, Suharto was convicted by three judges to 18 months in jail over an $11 million land scam. One of the judges who wouldn’t take a bribe was the once who ended up dead at the hands of Tommy’s hitmen.
Despite gambling being illegal in his country, Time magazine reported that it’s one of Tommy’s hobbies and will think nothing of losing $1 million in a single sitting. His family is rumoured to have amassed billions of dollars of corruption money during the 31 year reign of his father, Mohamed Suharto.
Around the time of the construction of this hotel, Tommy’s Bermuda-registered company purchased none other than Italian car company Lamborghini from Chrysler Corp. for $40 million (and sold it to Audi just a few years later for $110 million during Indonesia’s 1998 financial crisis).
In 1996, his company brutally forced Balinese villagers off their land to build a 650-hectare resort using military police with tear gas. Landowners were under compensated and those who refused to leave were intimidated, beaten and even jailed – and all for nothing, as it turned out, when the project was scrapped as recession hit. Whether or not we’re talking about the same resort is unclear, Tommy has countless luxury resorts and presumably more than one that failed. More than 4.5 million hectares of forest and plantation land is connected to the Suharto children according to the Times.
And if you thought we were done with Tommy’s laundry list of questionable activity, in the early 2000s, Jakarta was hit by a series of bombings. At the time, the Defence Minister recommended cancelling Tommy’s corruption trial to prevent further violence, or “more terror will keep coming,” he said. At the time, Suharto also happened to be a majority shareholder of a company that monopolised the export of explosives. In a second bomb plot that was foiled in 2001, he was directly named as the mastermind behind a planned attack on the Attorney General’s Office, the Trade Ministry and the Directorate General of Taxation. But thank to the powers of nepotism and a government infested by cancerous corruption, he got off for that one too. In 2016, Tommy’s wealth was estimated at $655 million and in the run-up to the 2019 elections, incredibly, reports suggest that Indonesians ‘long’ for a return to Suharto rule.
“Even if it’s impossible to know the truth behind this hotel’s origin, the feeling you have tells you something went wrong there,” says Romain.
Located in the centre of the island, in the past, explorers have jumped over a small fence behind the hotel, but in keeping with the Suharto way, security guards are now accepting a 10,000 IDR “bribe” if you will, to enter the hotel, which is the equivalent to 1 USD. Intrepid visitors can roam freely amongst the ruins for now, or as long as the mysterious owner permits it. The Google map co-ordinates are reportedly 100% accurate and the site is actually located a manageable driving distance from one of Bali’s most insta-famous luxury hotels, The Hanging Gardens Of Bali.
As always, enter at your own risk.
“Just when I was leaving, fog arrived and swallowed the hotel in a few minutes. I took this opportunity to make some last shots when it was still possible to see something. Not long after, you couldn’t see five steps away from you. The ghosts were back in their home and it was time for me to leave”.