Malaysia’s Attorney General Hears No Evil, Sees No Evil

On July 27, Malaysia’s attorney general, Tan Sri Abdul Gani, simultaneously absolved both the Inspector General of Police and the former Director General of the Anti-Corruption Agency of corruption charges. Two weeks earlier, he did the same for the Deputy Minister of Internal Security, the cabinet member in charge of the police force.

And so by one stroke of the pen, the AG has miraculously rescued Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi’s leadership from the crisis of confidence precipitated by the almost simultaneous eruption of corruption scandals (earlier this year) besieging these three top law enforcers.

Not only that, the AG also has, through absolution of these officials, turned the tables on the webmasters and bloggers who have brought to light in cyberspace these high-level scandals and allowed the leadership of the embattled United Malays National Organisation to launch a counter-offensive against the Internet trouble makers.

Having sat on these corruption reports for months for no creditable reason, the AG’s sudden burst of energy to almost simultaneously pronounce these tainted parties innocent has been met with widespread skepticism. And indeed the AG’s announcement to the press begs many more questions than it answers.

Dealing with these three cases separately:

The Inspector General of Police

Abdul Gani said that based on the Anti-Corruption Agency’s investigations, allegations of corruption against IGP Musa Hassan are groundless, as examinations of Musa’s bank account statements and properties have revealed nothing suspicious.

On the specific allegation that Musa and his officers received 2 million ringgit to free three detainees of a betting syndicate, the AG said the three were wrongfully detained on 30 March 2007 based on a fake statement bearing the forged signatures of six individuals, five of whom were in the Kluang police lockup and a sixth who was in court at the time the statement was made.

The three detainees were released on April 6 on the order of Criminal Investigation Department’s deputy director of intelligence/operations, Khalid Abu Bakar, who was instructed by Musa to probe the case. Khalid also suggested that disciplinary action be taken against police officers involved in this victimization.

My questions:

  • If the police officers perpetrating this victimization are guilty, why were they not charged in court?

  • If the three detainees are innocent, why didn’t they complain about their wrongful detention for seven days and seek compensation?

  • If it was a simple case of victimization, why did the Deputy Minister of Security Minister Johari Baharom, who is in charge of the police force, insist that ACA must probe the corruption allegations? Johari was reported as late as July 11 to have said that he was not satisfied with the explanations given by the police. He also said he did not get the documents he asked for following the corruption allegations in the web.

  • Why didn’t the AG also touch on other equally if not more important aspects of allegations in the web against Musa, such as his intimate relations with underworld kingpins whose names were clearly spelled out?

  • The AG said that Musa’s bank statements and properties reveal nothing suspicious. Is that the modus operandi of ACA investigations – checking the suspect’s bank statements and properties? Do criminals normally allow their illegal income be reflected in bank statements and properties?

  • If Musa is innocent, shouldn’t he have defended the honour of himself, the police force and the country by demanding justice from his accusers who, after all, have made specific accusations?

Director General of the Anti-Corruption Agency

On 26th February 2007, the web daily Malaysiakini revealed that then newly retired head of the Anti-Corruption Agency in Sabah, Ramli Manan, had lodged a corruption report in July 2006 against the then Director General of the ACA, Zulkipli Mat Nor, whose extended contract was due to expire at end March 2007.

Ramli claimed in the report that the ACA knew as long ago as 1997 that Zulkipli had corruptly amassed wealth and had been investigated by the police for sexual assault against a woman when he was police chief in Johor. Among Zulkipli’s alleged assets were houses and petrol stations in the name of Zulkipli’s sons and sister. Ramli’s report, copies of which were made available to the Prime Minister, the AG, the auditor general and civil service director-general, was ignored.

Following the Malaysiakini revelations, a task force led by the police was immediately formed to investigate Ramli’s allegations. Musa said in April that the police had already completed investigations and the report submitted to the AG.

After keeping quiet for more than three months, the AG suddenly announced on July 27 that Zulkipli had been cleared of Ramli’s allegations, as they were found to be only assumptions that Mohamad could not substantiate with documentary evidence. Neither could Mohamad reveal the third parties from whom Mohamad obtained his information. The AG however said that interviews with 43 witnesses including Ramli had been conducted.

My questions are:

  • Is it common practice to expect whistle-blowers to produce hard evidence for the prosecution?

  • Is it not the job of the law enforcement agency to search for the evidence since it is equipped with the legal power and resources necessary to pursue criminals?

  • The AG said investigations into sexual misconduct by Zulkipli conducted in 1997 were referred to the public prosecutor, and were declared dropped due to lack of evidence. This assertion is contradicted by a press report on March 1 which quoted IGP Musa as saying that the police did in fact carry out such an investigation in 1997, but after submitting the report to the AG for a decision as whether to file charges, the AG simply never responded. Musa added that the police had just submitted another report to the AG on the previous day, and was awaiting the AG’s instruction. This Musa statement clearly implied there is sufficient evidence to warrant the consideration of charges, in contrast to the AG’s claim of NFA due to lack of evidence. Will the AG please explain the contradiction?

  • If Ramli’s allegations were found to be completely baseless in April (or March), why didn’t the AG announce the finding there and then, thus sparing the Abdullah administration of prolonged acute embarrassment occasioned by the simultaneous assault on its reputation?

  • Wouldn’t a prompt announcement then be the natural choice of action by a clean AG in a clean government?

  • If Zulkipli is truly innocent and the investigations above board, why didn’t the government promptly charge Ramli for making such serious but baseless accusations so as to salvage the image of the government?

  • Similarly, shouldn’t Zulkipli have personally taken legal and disciplinary action against Ramli as self-protection for himself as well as for the entire organization?

  • Mind you, Ramli’s accusations were leveled in July 2006 when he was still a subordinate of Zulkipli, and such accusations were circulated to all relevant parties including the prime minister. Is the government prepared to make full disclosure of the investigations to dispel the cloud of suspicion arising from such dubious conduct over this scandal?

Deputy Minister of Internal Security

The “freedom for sale” allegation against Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharom became public knowledge on 3 March 2007 when the Star newspaper picked up information from an anonymous website called Freewebs.com, which specifically accused Johari of improperly releasing three gangster bosses operating vice syndicates in different parts of the country, for which Johari allegedly received bribes of not less than 5.5 million ringgit.

These three underworld bosses, who were named on the web site, were arrested at various times between October and December 2006 and released in mid-January 2007. The first came from Sitiawan, Perak and is the younger brother of a deputy minister who was named on the website. The second came from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, for whose release a bribe was allegedly paid. The third came from Cemor, Perak, was detained in October 2006, then placed in restricted residence in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan, and finally set free in mid-January, for “not less than 2.5 million ringgit”.

When the news broke on March 3, the Anti-Corruption Agency was already reported to have started an investigation, with the police seeking to ascertain whether these three detainees had been illegally released. Musa even recommended then that the detainees be re-arrested.

On March 8, the Star reported that two of the three detainees had already been re-arrested including the younger brother of the deputy minister. The police then said that “with these arrests, we should be able to carry out a comprehensive probe.”

On April 21, ACA acting director general Ahmad Said Hamdan was quoted in Malaysiakini as saying that investigations were completed shortly after Johari was questioned on Mar 19. He said that the investigation papers were in the hands of the AG.

Nothing was heard from the AG until July 11, when he announced that Johari had been cleared of the corruption allegations, as “the ACA was unable to find any statement to link Johari to the alleged offence.” The AG explained that “the said criminals had denied giving Johari money as a bribe,” that “related statements of accounts were scrutinized” and that “several criminals who are important witnesses could not be traced after their release.”

And why did it take the AG so long to come to this conclusion? He answers: “the ACA investigation took some time as statements of accounts had to be analyzed and statements had to be taken from relevant witnesses, and tracing witnesses also took some time.”

What a pack of lies when the ACA acting DG had confirmed that investigations were completed shortly after March 19!

As for the criminals’ denials and the lack of evidence in the relevant accounts, what do you expect – criminals admitting giving bribes and accounts showing millions of bribes? As seasoned crime busters and law enforcers, such admissions of ineptitude and criminal cover up are shameful. The AG must have taken the public for fools if he expects such lies would be well taken.

If IGP Musa could force individuals of high integrity and social standing into criminalizing an innocent deputy prime minister in open courts, I don’t see why he can’t get proper testimony from real criminals in his custody?

Then what about the detention, release and re-arrest (and most likely re-release) of these criminal bosses? Who is at fault – Johari or the police? Was it wrongful detention or wrongful release? Since these are big-time criminals – a fact which the police have not denied – why release them in the first place? Isn’t the Emergency Ordinance created specifically to detain without trial this type of criminal? Why keep the small fry and spare the bosses?

The Attorney General

Keen observers of politics must have noticed the powerful position of the attorney general when it comes to criminal prosecution, for he has the discretion to prosecute or not to prosecute any criminal case (save Shariah cases and courts-martial). The AG’s already powerful position was further enhanced in the Mahathir era when the ACA was also required to channel their cases to the AG for prosecution (in addition to the police cases) – a move obviously designed to make AG the ultimate filter to prevent unintended big fishes from being netted in the courts. This move undoubtedly facilitated the rapid expansion of cronyism and corruption among the UMNO elites, and looks set to further serve similar pursuits of the Abdullah leadership, its continued effectiveness being so dramatically demonstrated in the current move to cover up the dirty tracks of the ruling elite.

Another useful observation is that when it comes to criminal investigations of VIPs that might embarrass the ruling power, the law enforcement agency tasked with the investigations, whether police or ACA, choose to keep silent and push the dirty investigation papers to the AG where they may sleep for an indeterminate period only to be re-activated when the occasion so suits the political masters. Thus, when it comes to high-level criminal investigations, the AG has become the escape route for law enforcement, which in turn have always served as safe harbour for the corrupt elite where their dirty linen is habitually bleached.

Perhaps the saddest part of the current AG scam is the response of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi who expressed satisfaction at the AG’s announcement and requested that the issues of corruption by Musa and Zulkipli be dropped henceforth since there was no evidence. However, when reporters raised questions about the content of the investigation reports, he snapped back: “Don’t ask me on the contents of the investigations. These are not my jobs.”

If that isn’t the prime minister’s job, then what is? Don’t forget that as internal security minister, you are also the cabinet leader to whom all these scandalized officials report directly. Don’t you realize that there has been a crisis of confidence arising from these corruption scandals, and the current sham announcement has not only failed to restore confidence but has instead caused further disillusionment with your leadership?

As prime minister, it is you – not the IGP or the ACA head – who is directly answerable to the people. So, is it too much to ask you about the substance of the investigations to allay discontent among the people? As prime minister, you have answered critical questions with “I don’t know” too many times. Don’t let the answer “This is not my job” be another trademark of your premiership.