Malaysian Graft Probers Caused Political Aide's Suicide

Opposition party political aide Teoh Beng Hock, whose death in Kuala Lumpur two years ago ignited suspicion that he had been murdered by Anti-Corruption Commission officers, was actually hounded to his death, a Royal Commission of Inquiry announced Thursday.

The suicide death of the then-30 year-old Teoh, who was engaged to be married to his pregnant girlfriend, set off a firestorm in Malaysia’s minority Chinese community. He was found dead on July 16, 2009, on the fifth floor of a building next to the MACC headquarters after being questioned overnight at the Selangor MACC headquarters. He is believed to thrown himself out of a window of the MACC building after being granted a break from questioning.

A second death in April of a 56-year-old customs assistant director named Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed, who was said to have thrown himself out of a third-floor window of the MACC headquarters, has raised more concerns about the agency’s interrogation techniques.

Teoh was called into the MACC headquarters in the middle of the night to be interrogated as a material witness into alleged irregularities in the disbursement of Selangor government funds by his employer, Assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah. As it turned out, Ean was later cleared of any charges of wrongdoing.

An autopsy ordered by the opposition to be performed by the flamboyant Thai pathologist, Porntip Rojanasunand, concluded that the aide had been murdered. Porntip’s autopsy was discarded by the royal commission as erroneous, however. And although the royal commission finding supports government officials’ explanation of the tragedy, the inquiry determined that the suicide was the result of continuous and aggressive questioning by MACC officials.

Three MACC officers were found to have continuously used interrogation tactics that were agresif dan tidak wajar (aggressive, inappropriate) and therefore in violation of the regulations, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Aziz told a press conference in the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur Thursday. The three officers are former Selangor investigations unit head Hishammudin Hashim, investigation officer Mohd Anuar Ismail and assistant superintendent Mohd Ashraf Mohd Yunus.

“The MACC conducted investigations following information that a Selangor executive councillor and assemblyperson was involved in false allocation claims for his own party interest,” Nazri told reporters. “Teoh was supposed to be the key witness for MACC which investigated the allegation involving the DAP executive councilor. MACC's investigation mounted pressure on Teoh to make a confession as evidence.”

The MACC officials did not intend to cause Teoh’s death, Nazri said. "He felt pressured and stressed as a result of continuous interrogation techniques." Nazri said that "appropriate action will be taken against those officers involved who went against MACC procedure based on the rules and laws already in place."

The commissioners' conclusion that Teoh had committed suicide was strengthened by psychiatric findings by forensic psychiatrist Paul Edward Mullen, who was engaged by the Bar Council that Teoh was "weak in character."

"Having considered all the evidence in its entirety, we found that Teoh was driven to commit suicide by the aggressive, relentless, oppressive and unscrupulous interrogation to which he was subjected by certain officers of the MACC who were involved in the ongoing operation by the Selangor MACC on the night of the 15th and into the morning of the 16th," the report concluded.

Nazri said the commissioners, who were unanimous in their decision, have recommended that MACC's interrogation procedures be reviewed.

He added that the government is saddened by the incident that took Teoh's life and gave a commitment that appropriate action will be taken against the officers who had flaunted the procedures. He also urged interested parties, including Teoh's family, to put an end to the “episode” with the report out in public.

Besides concluding the circumstances surrounding Teoh's death, the RCI panel was also entrusted to look into MACC's interrogation procedures. It was recommended that the anti-graft authority review its entrance qualifications, upgrade infrastructure and public facilities and revamp its training schemes.

The report said: "But what is most saddening and regrettable is that the operation that the Selangor MACC embarked upon led to the death of Teoh, a promising young man in the prime of life who had everything to look forward to."

"His family was robbed of a son and brother, his fiancé of a husband and his then unborn child of a father. We can feel the pain and anguish that they must have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the callous machinations and attitudes of the MACC officers who were involved in the operation.

"We express our heartfelt sympathies on the loss that the family of Teoh and his fiancée and son have had to bear and continue to bear. We can only hope that time will assuage their pain."

Nazri acknowledged that the report has shown “many weaknesses” in MACC's procedures and vowed that the government is committed to reviewing its techniques, adding that the commissioners have recommended that MACC's interrogation procedures be reviewed.

A coroner's inquest into Teoh's death returned an open verdict, leading the government to set up the royal commission to look into the circumstances of his death, as well as to evaluate MACC's interrogation procedures.

(With reporting from Malaysiakini)