PETALING JAYA: The acquittal of Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon over corruption charges raises questions of whether government institutions are truly independent of partisan interests in Malaysia, said an anti-graft watchdog.
Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) executive director Cynthia Gabriel, in expressing shock over the Penang High Court's decision, added that this move underscores the need for public clarification and disciplinary sanctions to take place over the alleged corruption charges.
“C4, as an organisation championing anti-corruption and accountable governance, is concerned that our venerable institutions are subject to political interference and/or partisan motivations when it comes to corruption.
“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 in a statement issued Monday (Sept 3).
At the same time, she questioned how the High Court could easily acquit the duo from corruption charges, as the former Attorney-General Tan Sri Apandi Ali was confident in leading the prosecution previously.
“Either the previous AG was coerced to press charges in court, or the system is always stacked in favour of the existing government,” she added.
According to Gabriel, C4, had in the past, stressed that Lim needs to be cleared of corruption charges before assuming his Finance Minister position, in the name of good governance.
“The ease of which he was acquitted, even when the prosecution asked for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, raises highly suspicious flags.”
Gabriel said the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) need to provide a transparent explanation to the public over the controversy surrounding the duo’s acquittal from corruption charges.
“If they’re expressing shock, then they are pushing the responsibility to the AGC. If they believed there was a case, MACC must explain to the public of 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 the public needs an assurance that the originating evidence and motivations in MACC’s investigations 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,” she said while proposing for the public prosecutor’s office to be removed from the AG’s purview.
“Public confidence in the independence of these institutions must be restored, and otherwise, no change from the previous Najib regime who shamelessly trampled upon and compromised these institutions,” she added.
Meanwhile, renowned social critic Chandra Muzaffar said the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) must explain the reasons why its corruption case against Lim was withdrawn.
“The AGC should publicly disclose reasons why Lim’s case was withdrawn.
“In the new Malaysia, such important decisions like this should be backed up with solid reasoning and those reasons known to all,” the told Free Malaysia Today (FMT).
The joint trial of Lim, who is former Penang chief minister, and Phang, was in connection to the conversion of land from agriculture to residential status, and the purchase of a plot of land and a bungalow at below market value.
Earlier on Monday, Penang High Court judge Justice Hadhariah Syed Ismail acquitted both the accused and decided the charges to be dropped, despite the prosecution only proposing a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.