PETALING JAYA: Anti-graft group Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) has questioned the High Court’s acquittal of Lim Guan Eng in his corruption case, asking how it could have been so easily dropped given the previous attorney-general’s (AG) confidence in leading the prosecution.
In a statement, C4 said former AG Mohamed Apandi Ali had appeared in the Penang Sessions Court to press the initial set of charges against Lim in 2016.
“Apandi was so confident in leading the prosecution of Lim himself. But if the then-AG was so certain in the case, how can it be so easily dropped by the High Court today?
“Either the previous AG was coerced into pressing charges in court, or the system is always stacked in favour of the existing government,” said C4 executive director Cynthia Gabriel.
Lim had been charged with corruption over an alleged conversion of land status in 2014 and the purchase of a bungalow at below market value in 2015.
C4 previously said that Lim should be cleared of the charges before assuming the post of finance minister in Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Cabinet.
Cynthia said today’s “puzzling turn of events” raised questions about how independent government institutions are free from partisan interest in Malaysia.
“The ease with which he was acquitted, even when the prosecution asked for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, raises highly suspicious flags,” she added.
“We are concerned that politicians who have actually betrayed public trust may be allowed back into the system, while others may have to suffer from trumped-up charges in the interest of defending political supremacy rather than public interest.”
She said Lim’s acquittal begged “transparent explanations” from both MACC and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).
“If they’re expressing shock, then they are pushing the responsibility solely to the AGC. If they believed there was a case, MACC must explain to the public the initial reasons for recommending charges to be pressed in the first place.
“We may also need to consider disciplinary sanctions over this imbroglio,” she said.
She urged MACC and the AGC in its capacity as the public prosecutor to act without fear of political repercussions or from the desire to curry political favour.
“The public needs reassurance that the originating evidence and motivations in MACC’s investigation papers are valid.
“Otherwise, if the charges are revealed to be politically motivated, then there is a pressing need for greater reform in insulating Malaysian institutions from political interference.”
This could be done by separating the public prosecutor’s office from the purview of the AG, she added.
Activist Haris Ibrahim meanwhile criticised MACC’s surprise at the acquittal, asking if the “new MACC” thought the charges brought by the “old MACC” were not trumped up.
“Does the new MACC think that there was enough admissible evidence to warrant the charges being brought in the first place?” he said in a blog post.
“Did the prosecution offer reasons to the court which we hope understands its oath of office and, if they did, does not the new MACC concur with their reasons for requesting the discharge?
“These questions will all go to a matter of great importance to a person like Guan Eng.”