THERE is much public anger over the acquittal and discharge of the 29 bribery charges of former Felda board of directors’ member Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid. Consequently, there also has been much questioning over the independence and professionalism of the foremost anti-graft agency, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) handling of the case.
It has also invited the attention of the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board (ACAB), which is one of the five independent monitoring bodies of the MACC to hold an emergency meeting and issue a press statement regarding the matter. It said that it viewed the withdrawal of corruption cases seriously and does not want the commission to be politicised by any parties. I applaud the immediacy of their response as a monitoring body not only to keep the MACC on its toes, but to warn others from politicising the commission.
But first, a little bit of background on the case. Former Felda board director Noor Ehsanuddin was charged with 29 corruption charges, among them for accepting bribes, maintenance of vehicles and a piece of land from a printing company Karya Hidayah Sdn Bhd in 2014 and 2015. Last week, he was acquitted and freed of all charges when it was found that he had returned the sum, which was said to be advanced payments.
Due to public outcry, the MACC had issued a press statement to explain the the case. It said that based on new evidence presented, the accused proved that he had repaid the money alleged to be the bribe even before the investigation began. A key witness had confirmed the matter as loan money.
This has also been acknowledged by the advisory board, which had questioned and obtained the views from the MACC chief commissioner and its senior director of the legal and prosecution division.
“The ACAB takes notice that the case withdrawal was based on new facts from further investigations after the accused submitted his representation and statement of defence under Section 62 of the MACC Act 2009 during the trial.”
Earlier, a columnist had asked, is this giving ideas to the corrupt and dishonest that if they returned bribery money they could be cleared?
Certainly not. There have been a number of past cases when the alleged bribe money had been recovered or returned and cases have been closed in good faith to save the court’s time and cost. This, of course, depends on the nature of the case and how the money was received.
But in this case, it had not yet been proven that the money was bribe money. During the trial, the defence presented evidence that the money was, in fact, a loan, and had been paid back before investigations began.
If that’s the case, what could have happened in the initial investigation that led to the decision to prosecute in February 2019? Was there a lapse of judgment? Or a loophole in the investigations? The ACAB appears to be questioning the decision to prosecute by the Attorney-General in early 2019, which had led to the current MACC management bearing the consequences of having to withdraw the 29 cases.
Whatever had occurred in 2019, the investigations did bring evidence that led to the AG’s decision to bring the accused to court. The process of investigation is such that when there is a complaint backed by some evidence, as an enforcement agency, the MACC is duty-bound to investigate. When there is evidence to support the complaint, investigations are done and investigation papers are presented to the AG’s chamber, whereupon the AG will give consent whether to prosecute or not.
This is in line with the separation of powers practised in our country, where the MACC acts as the enforcer and conducts an investigation, and the decision to prosecute as well as the prosecution process itself are in the hands of the AG and its deputy public prosecutor.
Now presently, with new evidence, a follow-up investigation has been conducted and its findings presented to the AG. Constitutionally, the buck stops with the AG, whether it be the decision to prosecute, continue with the prosecution or to withdraw a case.
Conviction of corruption is one that is done beyond reasonable doubt as its impact on the accused ranges beyond the personal, impacting irreversibly one’s reputation, career and family. To review and investigate new evidence is a responsible and an accepted procedure to ensure justice is done for the prosecution’s case as well as to the accused.
It does not help to continue to harp on the matter, or to politicise it, but to understand the system, which is built based on check and balance, and even to err on the side of caution in dispensing justice.
*Zahari Lim K.H. reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.