WHEN Muhyiddin Yassin was made prime minister on March 1, 2020, tongues were wagging there would be a “review” of high-profile court cases involving several Umno leaders, such as Najib Razak and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Why the conclusion? It is not surprising. In fact, it is quite common for the public to jump to such a conclusion after seeing precedents that had been set in court cases involving top party leaders.
One of the cases was DAP’s Lim Guan Eng who was acquitted during Pakatan Harapan’s rule.
Lim, who was then finance minister, had his corruption case dropped after the court was told by a deputy public prosecutor that “fresh evidence” surfaced during the trial. Without giving details, the deputy public prosecutor, in a statement on September 4, 2018, said fresh evidence had arisen during cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
Earlier that week, the Penang High Court acquitted Lim of two charges – that he used his former position as chief minister of Penang to approve a conversion of land, and that he gained gratification for himself by buying a bungalow below market value.
His acquittal came after his lawyers filed representations to the Attorney-General’s Chambers for the case to be dropped after PH, of which DAP is one of the ruling parties, took power in May 2018, arguing that the charges against him were politically motivated.
Lim was charged during the Barisan Nasional’s rule in 2015.
Another DAP rep, charged with alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was also acquitted when PH was in power. DAP Gadek assemblyman G. Saminathan, with seven other individuals, were freed by the high court of all charges linking them to LTTE. In their cases, the prosecution only told the courts they did not wish to proceed with the cases. PH has always touted itself as a government that observes the rule of law but those cases proved otherwise.
Lim’s acquittal had set tongues wagging, and since Umno is in the Perikatan Nasional-led government, together with Pas, the public began to make their assumptions Muhyiddin would do the same to help Najib, who is also Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club chairman, Zahid and other Umno leaders who are facing several court charges.
With the BN coalition back in the ruling PN government, concerns were running high these Umno leaders would be set free. However, until today, as we all can witness, trials involving these Umno leaders are still taking place as set by the courts, which means the government respects the rule of law and the independence of the judicial body.
This non-interference of the executive in the judiciary probably explains why some Umno leaders have been quite vocal and blunt against Muhyiddin’s leadership, to the extent they are willing to work with the opposition to depose of the government.
Indeed, there is no reason their ongoing court cases should be dropped as court is the best avenue for them to clear their names. If the prime minister fails to allow these leaders to fight their cases in the open court, this would only leave the credibility of his government open to question.
Notwithstanding, it would also affect its stand in upholding transparency and the rule of law.
This year, the graft trials of several Umno lawmakers are set to take centre stage again. Najib’s corruption cases are still being tried but his wife, Rosmah Mansor, has been ordered to enter her defence involving a solar hybrid project in Sarawak. Najib, who is embroiled in his own 1MDB trial, will be called to testify in his wife’s defence when the defence trial begins in June.
Zahid, who is facing 12 criminal breach of trust charges, eight for corruption and 27 for money-laundering, totalling RM117 million, will also have his cases up for trial in March while former Tabung Haji chairman and Umno Baling MP, Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Rahim is charged with three counts of bribery. His trial will begin in August.
Last December, former Umno secretary-general, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was found guilty of accepting a RM2 million bribe from a businessman and he is appealing against the 12-months’ jail sentence while another Umno leader, Ahmad Maslan, who is charged with money-laundering, will know his fate on July 24.
Last July, the prime minister was quoted as saying Malaysians should continue to have faith in an independent judicial system. His statement came about after the high court’s guilty verdict against Najib on seven charges of abuse of power, CBT and money-laundering.
Muhyiddin promised the PN government would always uphold the rule of law and that Malaysians should give space for the legal process to take place, to ensure justice is upheld.
The prime minister has given his word that the executive arm of the government will not interfere with the courts; hence, the ongoing court cases involving those VIPs.
He has kept to his word – a promise he has uprightly guarded and held true for us all. Come March 1, it will be the prime minister’s one-year anniversary in office. May he remain steadfast and committed in upholding the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. – February 21, 2021.
* Narimah Faizal reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.