PETALING JAYA: Holding suspects for a long period to help police complete their investigations in commercial crimes is like punishing them before they are proven guilty, lawyers say.
They said police need not detain suspects, unless in exceptional circumstances, as evidence in white collar crimes could not be easily tampered with.
The lawyers said police should first begin collecting documentary evidence before moving in to arrest suspects.
They also said magistrates who approve detention orders must be vigilant when it is revealed that some suspects are being placed under “chain remand” over a long period.
Lawyer Salim Bashir said the Criminal Procedure Code provided that magistrates could only allow a maximum seven-day remand if punishment for a crime carried a jail term of 14 years and below.
Most jail terms for commercial crimes are also in that bracket.
“Usually, the magistrate will first give a three-day remand order and extend it by another four days if it is shown investigators need more time to complete their probe,” he said.
He said magistrates must also take into account the remand orders given by other judicial officers which led to suspects being held under police custody for a long period.
“The magistrate cannot be mechanical as he/she must inquire into what happened to the outcome of previous investigations,” he told FMT.
Salim said a recent Federal Court ruling also held magistrates must balance fairly between the personal liberty of an individual, who had not been proven guilty of an offence, and the duty of the police to investigate a crime.
He said this in response to reports that a travel and tours company director was held under police remand for 42 days following 136 reports made nationwide against the firm in a commercial crime case.
Commercial Crime Investigation Department director Amar Singh told reporters that Rosemary anak Ginam was more than simply an “employee” at the company and she was accused of selling phone package tours to would-be holidaymakers.
Police said that RM2.3 million had gone missing from the company’s bank accounts and Rosemary was its signatory.
She was freed on Tuesday but Amar said police had proposed that she be prosecuted for criminal offences.
Rights activist Eric Paulsen said holding Rosemary for far too long in a lock-up was an abuse of power by the police and a breach of her freedom.
“She is not a flight risk as she is a Malaysian, married and a mother of three. The police can easily ask her to come in to cooperate with their investigations whenever necessary, said Paulsen, who is legal director of the group Fortify Rights.
Another lawyer, N Sivananthan, said police were circumventing the law by taking suspects on a nationwide “roadshow” just because many reports were lodged by victims.
“This is some form of an ‘executive punishment’ before the accused is charged with offences in a court of law,” he said.
Sivananthan said in commercial crimes, investigators could collect and collate evidence and decide later whether to arrest the suspects.
“There is unlikely to be tampering of witnesses and evidence as prosecutors will rely on documentary evidence to prove their case,” he added.