AG’s right to drop murder charges only against Indonesian, minister says

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who were accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam in February 2017.

KUALA LUMPUR: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong told the Dewan Rakyat today that the attorney-general (AG) has the discretion to decide whether to drop charges, as was the case with the Indonesian woman accused of killing the North Korean leader’s half-brother in 2017.

Liew (Warisan-Batu Sapi) said the AG’s power to institute or discontinue such proceedings is spelt out in Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution.

“He (Tommy Thomas) has the right not to proceed with cases,” he said in response to Azalina Othman Said (BN-Pengerang), who had referred to reports saying it was unfair of the AG not to drop charges against the Vietnamese woman accused of the same crime.

Liew, the de facto law minister, also said Azalina, who held the same position under the previous government, should have known that this is stipulated in the constitution.

Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong were accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at klia2 in February 2017.

Siti Aisyah was recently released from custody after the court dropped the murder charge against her. Thomas later said Malaysia had agreed to Indonesia’s request to drop the charges.

A defence lawyer subsequently asked for an adjournment in the case against Doan, in order to submit a request that charges against her be dropped as well.

Vietnam, too, requested that the charges be dropped. But this was rejected, with Doan’s trial slated to resume on April 1.

To Azalina’s original question about when the government would amend the law to separate the powers of the public prosecutor from those of the AG, as promised, Liew said a report on the matter would be debated later this year.

To Hassan Karim (PH-Pasir Gudang) who asked why “external lawyers” are being sought to handle high-profile cases instead of the deputy public prosecutors under the purview of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Liew said this too was at the AG’s discretion.

Hassan had named former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram and former Malaysian Bar president Sulaiman Abdullah, who are prosecutors in former prime minister Najib Razak’s graft cases.

He also asked if the existing deputy public prosecutors were competent enough for the job, given that the AG appeared to be getting “external help” for such cases.

To Takiyuddin Hassan (PAS-Kota Bharu) on whether it is legal for the AGC to sue on behalf of private citizens, as was the case in the suit by the Kelantan Orang Asli against the state government, Liew said yes.

He said the AG has two responsibilities: to advise the government and Cabinet during litigation and to prosecute cases. In the former, he said, the AG would defend the government if it is sued.

“But with a civil litigation in which the government or Cabinet decides to sue a company, an individual or a group of individuals, then the AG will take action and the federal government will be proactive.”

In January, Putrajaya filed a suit against the PAS-ruled Kelantan government over encroachments into Orang Asli settlements, the first such suit by the federal government involving native land rights.

It also sought an injunction to stop private companies from encroaching into native lands to carry out commercial activities, adding the beneficiaries of the suit – litigation of which is free – are the Orang Asli.

Thomas had said this was the first time since independence that the federal government was instituting legal proceedings on behalf of the Orang Asli, in what is seen as Putrajaya’s acknowledgement of its constitutional and legal duty to protect them.