Many of my fellow constituents, as well as friends, have asked me for my opinion about the legality of MACC Chief Commissioner Latheefa Koya’s bombshell disclosure. Some of them were amused, some vindictive, but all of them were united in worry about the state of our country’s laws.
As to whether the ex-PM Dato’ Sri Najib Razak is indeed guilty of a crime or not, I do not want to take sides in this matter, as his cases are still running in the courts, and making any adverse comments on either side may be in contempt of court.
However, as a lawyer and a citizen of Malaysia, I do have this to say:
Under Malaysian law, evidence and facts in the Prosecution’s case must be delivered to the accused soon after being charged, in order to enable the accused to prepare his defence based on what has been submitted. This is clear in Section 51A in the Criminal Procedure Code, which makes pre-trial disclosure by the prosecution obligatory. If either party obtains new material that can be classified as evidence during the course of the case, it must be submitted to the courts as well as to the other party for the purpose of evaluation, including confirming the authenticity and admissibility of such evidence, and addressing the new evidence in the defence.
Which is why I find the MACC’s decision to take the extraordinary measure of going to the media and ignoring regular procedure so weird. Add the fact that Chief Commissioner Latheefa Koya was a respected senior lawyer before joining the MACC, with many years of practice under her belt, and you get a real head-scratcher. Shouldn’t she know the Evidence Act 1950 and the Criminal Procedure Code by heart now? And yet when a journalist asked for her opinion from a lawyer’s point of view, she refused to answer the question, responding instead that she was no longer a lawyer but the Chief Commissioner of the MACC now. Perhaps putting on that little black MACC hat has wiped out 18 years of legal experience.
Why did Latheefa Koya hold a (very long) press conference to reveal the covert conversation recordings? What were her motivations behind her decision to flout procedure? At the same press conference, she had said that the recordings of the conversations will be investigated and the results will be handed over to the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). Why not go to the press and media only after the investigations have been completed? Even A. Kadir Jasin, Mahathir’s communications special adviser and certainly no big fan of Dato’ Sri Najib, cautioned that her actions could “cost the MACC its integrity” if the recordings were found to be unverified, opening the floodgates for the MACC to be accused of slander.
One question remains unanswered: what was her motivation? Perhaps because there isn’t enough dirt to convict Dato’ Sri Najib Razak, the MACC decided to do an exposé with the intention of submitting Dato’ Sri Najib to the Court of Public Opinion instead, creating a negative perception of him as a henpecked husband who probably fiddled with the books? If that is so, then what is the use of this country having a judiciary and courts system in the first place? Why not submit everyone accused of a crime before the media as well, and let Facebook deliver the verdict?
Or maybe, Latheefa Koya (a longtime PKR stalwart) was really a secret agent of Dato’ Sri Najib all along? Some parts of the conversation seem to exonerate Dato’ Sri Najib of the crimes he is accused of, confirming the involvement of an ‘Arab prince’ and Dato’ Sri Najib’s attempts to contain the problem instead of indulging in looting. There is also the conspicuous absence of any recordings with Jho Low, the alleged true mastermind of the scandal. Even Tun Dr Mahathir’s personal lawyer Haniff Khatri panicked, warning that making the recordings public could jeopardise ongoing 1MDB-related trials faced by Najib, and perhaps after Latheefa’s exposé, Dato Sri’ Najib may walk away a free man.
That being said, I also believe that the disclosure of the recordings has not only gained national but also international attention. The exposé included conversations with leaders of other countries too: this will create the impression that Malaysia is a police state where everybody is being spied on, and even the Prime Minister and his foreign counterparts were not spared. It is irresponsible of Latheefa to plunge Malaysia’s diplomatic relations and international image into jeopardy, for the mere sake of destroying the political career of a man who is already no longer in power, and starting a smear campaign benefitting Pakatan Harapan in the upcoming Kimanis by-election.
Latheefa Koya told the press that the main objective behind the exposé was to prevent attempts to “undermine independent bodies”. But it is completely alright for her then, to undermine an independent judiciary? How could Latheefa Koya be so ignorant of the law and procedure? Was it not because of her reputation as a lawyer of great prowess that she was put at the helm of the MACC? Or was it because of her reputation as a lawyer of a certain political party instead?
Or maybe “Malaysia Baru” means “Prosedur SPRM Baru” too? So much for the rule of law, I guess.