Plea bargaining in Riza’s case sets dangerous precedent, says Dr M

Former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad says plea bargaining is practised in the US, but it is about information which will give bigger gains to the government and not about returning stolen money.

PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the money-laundering charges dropped against Riza Aziz after a plea bargain had set a dangerous precedent for future cases.

Riza, the stepson of former prime minister Najib Razak, had been charged with five counts of money laundering amounting to US$248 million (RM1.08 billion) tied to 1MDB. He was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNNA) by the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court last week.

Putrajaya said it expected to recover overseas assets worth an estimated US$107.3 million from the Hollywood producer, but Mahathir was worried that the plea bargain practice — which he said was previously unheard of in Malaysia — would likely be offered again to withdraw charges “against other thieves if they returned a fraction of the money they had stolen”.

“Malaysia had never accepted or practised the concept of plea bargaining, in which a criminal suspect would offer to help the government in return for some concession to his advantage,” said Mahathir in a blog post today.

“Plea-bargaining is practised in the United States. Even then, it is about information which will give bigger gains to the government. It is not about returning stolen money. Most certainly, it is not about returning less than half the money stolen.”

Hollywood producer Riza Aziz.

Under a settlement announced by the court on May 14, Riza will surrender his rights to three properties seized by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), forfeit the money seized from him by the government, and pay a RM500,000 compound fine under the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act.

Riza had claimed trial in July 2019 to the money laundering charges allegedly involving funds received from Good Star Ltd and Aabar Investments PJS Ltd, two companies said to be linked to fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low.

Mahathir said the money Riza was to return would be sourced from the money seized by DoJ, which the department had already agreed to return to the previous administration upon proof that it belongs to Malaysia.

Stressing Riza would return less than half of the money seized by the DoJ, Mahathir said the acquittal had left the public “disgusted and angry”.

“We, in fact, have a government backed by people with criminal backgrounds.

“We cannot feel sure that justice will be upheld in this country because of the power and influence of these criminals.

“The whole world is laughing at Malaysia.”

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