Lawyers split over AGC’s use of ‘kleptocracy’

Najib Razak is facing multiple charges linked to the 1MDB scandal.

PETALING JAYA: Two prominent lawyers are split over the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ (AGC) use of the term “kleptocracy” to refer to the former administration of Najib Razak, ahead of his corruption trial next week.

This comes after criticism was hurled at Solicitor-General III Mohamad Hanafiah Zakaria over a leaked internal memo by him.

In the letter, Hanafiah urged prosecutors not to delay high-profile trials related to the previous “kleptocracy” government, using a term first used by the US attorney-general to refer to the Department of Justice’s seizure of assets linked to 1MDB.

The term was later popularised by Pakatan Harapan politicians prior to the general election last year.

Hanafiah has since defended the letter, saying he had done nothing wrong under the law in calling for cases involving Najib and Barisan Nasional leaders to be expedited.

The letter drew criticism from MCA, who questioned the AGC’s impartiality.

Siti Kasim.

But lawyer Siti Kasim said the opposition party was making a big fuss.

She said it was only right for the AGC to be convinced of a person’s guilt before bringing charges against him.

“It is essentially biased in its role,” the human rights lawyer told FMT.

“So for it to call the previous government a ‘kleptocracy’ is totally within its role, considering the number of charges it has brought upon members of the previous government, including the very top leadership.”

Criminal lawyer SN Nair disagrees.

SN Nair.

While Hanafiah did nothing wrong in asking that the corruption trials are not delayed, the word “kleptocracy”, said Nair, has political connotations.

“It was termed by the then opposition prior to last year’s general election,” he told FMT.

He said although the word was “perfectly alright” to use in most countries, this was not the case in Malaysia, given the local political context.

“The AGC ought to have been circumspect and not use that word. It only gives a negative connotation that it is biased, and brought the AG’s impartiality into question.”

Nair said the use of the word would have been “perfectly acceptable” during the “cut and thrust of the trial”, but not at the AGC’s administrative level.

Nizam Bashir.

Constitutional lawyer Nizam Bashir said he understood the reservations over the use of the word “kleptocracy” by prosecutors.

“But it is merely reflective of the prosecution pursuing the present cases with vigour,” he told FMT.

“The nation’s interest would be far better served by ensuring that the focus be on the trial without distractions such as these.”

Lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said the AGC’s use of the term “kleptocracy” showed the prosecution “seems confident and prepared”.

“When chambers conduct or initiate prosecutions, it would have within its domain and possession all relevant pieces of evidence, be it documentary proof and/or witnesses’ statements,” he explained.