Lawyers split over whether local police should get involved in US probe

Simon-Murali-Ramkarpal-SinghPETALING JAYA: Lawyers have differing opinions about whether Malaysian police should get involved in the US Department of Justice’s bid (DoJ) to recover US$540 million in assets allegedly stolen from 1MDB.

One lawyer interviewed said it was a civil matter and there was no need for Malaysian police to get involved while two others said police should look at possible criminal elements in the case.

They were responding to Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar, who said today that his men would not interfere in the DoJ’s move to recover the US$540 million spent on art works, jewellery and film rights.

“That is a civil action. Police will not interfere,” Khalid had said.

Khalid was also asked if the police would offer assistance to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into the case, to which he said: “No. Not in civil matters.”

Lawyer K Simon Murali, in agreeing with Khalid that there was no need to involve Malaysian police, said: “The DoJ (action) is a civil action by the US government to recover money that was said to be misused. Not a criminal investigation.”

Simon said if local police were needed to assist in the probe, the US government would invoke the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) treaty with the Malaysian government.

“We have signed the MLA with some western and eastern countries. If foreign authorities need our help for investigations in criminal cases, they will use the MLA and request for the police’s help,” he said.

According to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Malaysia has signed treaties on mutual assistance in criminal matters with Asean countries, Australia, Hong Kong, the US, the UK, India and South Korea.

Simon added that the treaty was incorporated into the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 2002.

Lawyer Ramkarpal Singh did not agree with Khalid, saying that although the DoJ action was civil in nature, it did not mean that the police could not investigate any alleged wrongdoing in 1MDB-related issues.

“If the civil action discloses wrongdoings, police can step in,” he said.

Lawyer S N Nair said Khalid had “misconceived” the issue in asserting that it was a civil action as he might not be aware of the nature of the case in the US.

“It could be a quasi-criminal action,” he said, adding: “Quasi-criminal” means that a suit has elements of criminal prosecution.”

1MDB has consistently denied any wrongdoing.