PETALING JAYA: The Penang High Court’s decision to acquit Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon over the alleged conversion of land status and purchase of a bungalow below market value is a “shocker” to the anti-graft agency.
In a brief statement, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said it was not behind the decision to withdraw the case, pointing out that this was made by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
“The MACC is very shocked by the decision of the Penang High Court. The MACC would like to state that the decision to withdraw the case was made by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and not the MACC,” it said.
The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) described Lim’s acquittal as an “extreme surprise”, saying the acquittal raised questions on the independence of government institutions from partisan interests.
Its director Cynthia Gabriel said in a statement that the acquittal underscored the need for clarification over the initial charge.
Despite the MACC response, she urged the body to explain to the public the initial reasons it had for recommending charges to be pressed.
“If they are expressing shock, then they are pushing the responsibility solely to the AGC,” she said.
Gabriel also called on the AGC to explain why it decided to withdraw the case, as former AG Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali was so confident in personally leading the prosecution in the case.
“If the then AG was so certain of the case, how can it be so easily dropped by the High Court?
“Either the previous AG was coerced to press charges in court, or the system is always stacked in favour of the existing government,” she said.
Malaysian Bar president George Varughese explained that the MACC’s role was to investigate and make recommendations to the public prosecutor.
He said the decision whether or not to charge a person was entirely up to the public prosecutor, whom he said may or may not accept the recommendations of the MACC.
“It is the absolute prerogative of the public prosecutor at any stage of the trial, before the delivery of judgment to decline to prosecute further pursuant to Section 254 of the Criminal Procedure Code,” said Varughese.
Umno Youth chief Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki described the decision as a “black mark in the history of New Malaysia”.
“The move to drop Guan Eng’s case without a solid explanation and clear justification by the AGC only highlights that justice is not being served,” he said.
MCA Youth Young Professionals bureau chairman Eric Choo Wei Sern called on the AGC to clarify in “no uncertain terms” as to why the charges were dropped.
He said the AGC must state whether there was any new evidence which led to it withdrawing the case.
Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted that while accusations of “selective prosecution” had been made in the past, there was now alleged “selective non-prosecution”.
“This is a strange decision and creates a bad perception towards the AGC,” he tweeted.
Umno secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa said he would leave it to the people to evaluate for themselves the decision to acquit Lim.
Fatihah Jamhari, the Law and Human Rights bureau head of the Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education, said the trend of dropping charges against Pakatan Harapan politicians made a mockery of the rule of law.
She said while the decision to drop the charges was the sole discretion of the AG, he should explain why the case was withdrawn.
Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi, chief executive of the Young Professionals NGO, said the acquittal went against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s promise of rule of law.
“Instead, what we see happening now is rule by law, and a serious lack of accountability,” he said.