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Teoh’s death: ‘Not suicide or homicide’

 | January 6, 2011

The coroner has returned an open verdict in the inquest into the death of Teoh Beng Hock.


SHAH ALAM: The cause of death of political aide and former journalist Teoh Beng Hock still remains a mystery as the inquest today delivered an “open verdict”.

Coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas read out his decision on the inquest into Teoh’s death at the Shah Alam magistrate’s court at 3pm today.

He said that as there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Teoh had died by way of suicide or homicide, he had ruled out both possibilities.

In ruling out suicide, Azmil said there was “questionable” evidence that could not firmly establish whether a “suicide note” found at the later stages of the inquest, was written by Teoh.

Azmil also said he was not qualified to decide, in the absence of an expert’s confirmation, whether it was a suicide note at all.

He added that Teoh’s brother had testified that Beng Hock was to be married soon, had led a normal life, and had no psychological illnesses.

“In law, suicide is not to be presumed. There remains unsettled issues in considering suicide as the cause of the deceased’s death. To find this based on guesswork is unacceptable. I rule out a verdict of death by suicide.”

In ruling out homicide, Azmil said that there were pre-fall injuries but could not be certain if those had caused Teoh’s death.

Azmil said the pathologists did not rule out that the injuries to Teoh’s neck could have been sustained before he fell to his death.

“I find it sufficient to say that there were pre-fall injuries. However, there is insufficient evidence to point at a third party involved in his death; it’s as good as another guesswork. I hereby rule out the verdict of death by homicide.”

Multiple injuries

Azmil said that Teoh’s time of death was between 7.15am and 11.15am based on the opinions of expert witnesses.

He added that based on the testimonies of the pathologists, Teoh died on the service corridor of the fifth floor of Plaza Masalam.

The cause of death, based on the opinions of all pathologists, was due to multiple injuries sustained in his fall, he added.

Teoh died on July 16, 2009.

Earlier, Azmil told the court about the functions of a coroner.

“It is to establish the where, when and how and in what manner the deceased died. Also, who, if there are any persons who caused his death – without finding criminal liability of such persons,” he said, adding that an inquest was held simply to establish facts.

Teoh, the DAP political aide to Selangor executive councillor and Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah, was found dead on July 16 last year on the fifth floor of Plaza Masalam here.

Teoh, then 30, had died hours after he was interrogated overnight by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) at the Selangor MACC office located on the 14th floor of the same building. He was a witness in the alleged misuse of Selangor government allocations.

The inquest was held after Teoh’s death had caused public outcry, with many blaming the MACC for it.

37 witnesses

The inquest, initially thought to last only a month, has dragged on since July 29 last year and finally ended on Nov 4.

Testimonies from 37 witnesses, among them several MACC officers and well-known Thai pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand, were heard.

Invited to Malaysia by the Selangor government, Pornthip had claimed that Teoh could have been murdered, causing Teoh’s body to be exhumed for a second post-mortem.

During her attendance in court for the second time, on Aug 18, she said the second post-mortem indicated that Teoh was not assaulted or tortured.

British forensics expert Prof Dr Peter Vanezis, engaged by MACC, testified that Teoh was not unconscious when he plunged to his death.

Vanezis said the distribution of injuries indicated that Teoh was fully conscious and orientated at the time.

He also had testified that the second post-mortem, which was supervised by him, revealed that none of the injuries showed that he was killed by other means or thrown out of the window.

During the inquest, the coroner was assisted by lawyer Tan Hock Chuan and deputy public prosecutor Abazafree Mohd Abas who represented the government.

Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo represented Teoh’s family, lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar for the Selangor government and MACC director of the Legal and Prosecution Division Abdul Razak Musa for the MACC.

Seen in the packed gallery today was Ean Yong, Teoh’s family, DAP leaders Lim Kit Siang, Teresa Kok, Teo Nie Ching, Lim Lip Eng, Tan Kok Wai; and PKR leaders Shamsul Iskandar, Elizabeth Wong, and Dr Xavier Jayakumar

Chronology of the Teoh Beng Hock case

July 16, 2009: Teoh Beng Hock, 30, political aide to Selangor exco and Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah, was found dead. A janitor found his body on the fifth floor of Plaza Masalam, Shah Alam. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office, where Teoh was interrogated overnight in relation to alleged misuse of state allocations, was on the 14th floor of the same building. Teoh was also a former journalist with Chinese daily Sin Chew Jit Poh.

July 17, 2009: Teoh was to register his marriage with fiancée Soh Cher Wei, 28. He had planned to quit his job and move back to his hometown in Malacca. She was two months pregnant with his child.

July 19, 2009: Police said initial post-mortem report indicated that Teoh died from multiple injuries sustained from a fall but did not rule out foul play.

July 23, 2009: Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that an inquest to investigate Teoh’s cause of death will be held while a Royal Commission of Inquiry will be formed to look into MACC interrogation methods as well as whether there were human rights violations during Teoh’s interrogation.

July 25, 2009: A blog entitled “Truth for Teoh Beng Hock” surfaced, alleging that corrupt practices by DAP exco members had led to Teoh’s death. DAP leaders have dismissed the claims from the blog, which had documents to back the purported graft claims.

July 25, 2009: Police announced that an inquest would be held from July 29 till Aug 12.

July 29 2009: Inquest begins. Lawyer representing the Attorney-General’s team, Tan Hock Chuan, told the court that DNA specimens taken from swabs on Teoh’s clothing matched Teoh’s blood and another unknown male contributor.

Aug 11 2009: Pathologist Dr Khairul Azman Ismail, who conducted a post-mortem on Teoh a day after his death, said Teoh died of multiple injuries caused by a fall from a high place. He also said there were no signs of struggles. He also ruled out the possibility of homicide or accidental death. He said there were signs that Teoh might have deliberately jumped out of the window of Plaza Masalam. He also admitted that DNA traces found on Teoh’s body could have been from contamination by previous autopsies performed on the same table (further tests found that the DNA samples matched two male accident victims examined earlier).

Aug 18, 2009: Police forensic investigators had noted finger-print marks around the 14th floor window of the MACC office, but did not lift them as they were deemed “incomplete”.

Aug 18, 2009: Second forensic pathologist testifying on Teoh’s death, Dr Prashant Naresh Samberkar, suggested he may have committed suicide as there were no signs of defensive wounds.

Aug 24, 2009: A poison-pen letter alleging a cover-up within the Selangor MACC, earlier sent to Teoh’s family’s lawyer Gobind Singh Deo, was dismissed as unrelated evidence and removed from court records.

Aug 25, 2009: MACC deputy superintendent Mohd Anuar Ismail admitted that as the investigating officer, he did not telephone the police upon receiving news of Teoh’s body but had referred the matter to his investigation unit head, state MACC deputy director Hishamuddin Hashim, who instructed him to go to Putrajaya. Hishamuddin later admitted that he instructed Anuar not to lodge a police report.

Oct 21, 2009: Thai pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand said that there was 80% possibility of homicide and 20% chance of suicide. She said this based on the autopsy reports of Dr Khairul Azman and Dr Prashant Naresh and post-mortem pictures made available to her. She suggested that Teoh had sustained injuries prior to death, pointing to bruises around the neck and extensive tearing of his anal region. She advised a second autopsy.

Nov 21, 2009: Teoh’s body was exhumed and underwent a second autopsy the next day at the Sungai Buloh Hospital. Coroner Azmil Munthapa Abas had earlier ordered for the autopsy and allowed the Selangor government and MACC to send in their expert observers, namely Pornthip and British pathologist Dr Peter Vanezis. Teoh was later re-buried  at Nirvana Memorial Park.

Jan 1, 2010: MACC lodges a report against PKR party organ Suara Keadilan for an article that allegedly “confirmed” that Teoh was murdered. The report urged police to investigate as MACC felt that the article was subjudice to the inquest proceedings. The officer who made the report also claimed that Pornthip could have leaked information but Pornthip was later cleared of the allegation by the Attorney-General.

Jan 6, 2010: Teoh’s brother files a contempt against court motion against MACC for their report against Pornthip. The motion was rejected later.

Feb 21, 2010: Teoh’s widow, Soh Cher Wei, 29, who married Teoh posthumously, gave birth to a son, Teoh Er Jia.

March 2, 2010: Government pathologist Dr Shahidan Md Noor testified that Teoh “could have been strangled”, saying it was possible but not probable. He also said Teoh may have been unconscious during the fall. However, he later clarified that he meant that Teoh’s injuries that led to his death were consistent with a fall from a height and that there were injuries on his neck, but those did not cause his death.

April 26, 2010:
Dr Peter Vanezis concludes that Teoh was not murdered and that his injuries were consistent with that of a fall from a height. He also said that Teoh was fully conscious when he fell. He said it was unlikely that Teoh was pushed out the window.

April 12, 2010: Pornthip declines to testify any further at inquest, citing “political pressure”. But later changes her mind after being assured of her safety.

April 17, 2010: Teoh’s family cites Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz for contempt against court for calling Pornthip a “liar”.

Aug 10, 2010: A “suicide note” found in Teoh’s bag two months after his death was only a year later considered as evidence. The suicide note was revealed in court in September. It was purportedly written by Teoh and mostly in Chinese and addressed to Ean Yong.

Aug 18, 2010: Pornthip returns to testify in person, and maintains that Teoh’s death was not a suicide. While declining to state any percentages this time, she also maintained that Teoh sustained injuries prior to his fall. She added that injuries to his neck was not caused by strangulation but suggested that someone may have pushed down something against his neck. She said he was probably unconscious when he fell.

Aug 23, 2010: MACC was taken to task when it posted a doctored photo of Pornthip, depicting her as a gypsy holding a crystal ball, on its official blog. The blog post was filled with offensive accusations discrediting Pornthip and describing her as a “fortune teller”. MACC, claiming to be in the dark, said it would investigate the posting.

Oct 30, 2010: Four Malaysians for Beng Hock activists were arrested in Gua Musang for distributing pamphlets on Teoh’s death during the Galas by-election.

Nov 4, 2010: Inquest was told MACC officers cannot be ruled out as suspects by the investigating officer of the case ASP Ahmad Nazri Zainal . Police also admitted to failing to double-check testimony of several key witnesses.

Dec 17, 2010:
Coroner sets Jan 5 for the decision of the inquest.


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