(Readings) Altantuya and ‘fair trial’? (2) June 9, 2007Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Human Rights, Malaysia, Politics, Readings, Southeast Asia, Women.
If playing badminton with a judge is enough for a senior Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) to be deemed unfit to prosecute the murder case of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu because it purportedly creates a negative perception, then what about the Abdul Gani himself (when he was a DPP) and another DPP who were alleged via a statutory declaration to having requested Dato’ Nallakaruppan to fabricate evidence against Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which then formed the basis of an application for them to be disqualified?
This is the second part of Amer Hamzah’s opinion piece, who together with another lawyer, Fahri Azzat, aren’t buying the “shuttlecock” story. The first part can be found here.
Altantuya Trial: A whole lot of shuttlecock
by Amer Hamzah Arshad and Fahri Azzat
The Malaysian Bar website
The latest explanation by the Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail on the sudden change of the prosecution team – from Salehuddin Saidin and Noorin Badaruddin to Tun Majid Tun Hamzah and Manoj Kurup – raises more questions than it gives answers, especially in relation to his appreciation of the law and possession of common sense.
The Attorney General very well knows that there has to be a deeper involvement other than a game of badminton before Salehuddin Saidin and Noorin Badaruddin are to be declared unfit. If they were seen going on holidays or picnics with their respective families and taking snapshots for keepsakes, at least that would have been understandable. Therefore, when the Attorney General claims that he made a change in the prosecution personnel for this case, supposedly in order ‘to ensure a fair trial’, it is nothing more than a pure ‘public relations exercise’. The Attorney General also forgets that an expeditious trial is part and parcel of a ‘fair trial’ and his public relations stunt which got the trial adjourned for two weeks has in itself caused an injustice to the court, to the accused, to the witnesses, to the family of deceased and the public who had every expectation of the trial commencing on the date fixed.
Let us recollect how the High Court was taken by surprise on Monday morning when a new ‘team’ of prosecutors walked into the High Court and informed the parties concerned that ‘they’ will be taking over conduct of the criminal prosecution in the Altantuya’s case from thereon. No prior notice was given to anybody despite the fact that all of those concerned were aware of the existence of modern modes of communication. So clearly, the Attorney General felt there was no need to extend the courtesy of calling the respective counsel for the accused persons to inform them that they would be seeking an adjournment on the first day of trial. As if that were not bad enough, no reasons whatsoever were afforded to the High Court or to any of the parties concerned. This clearly also shows that the Attorney General could not be bothered about what the trial judge thought of the change because if he did, he would have turned up himself or given an explanation for the change on the day itself instead of subsequently coming up with two press statements to explain this glaring faux pas.
Because of the clear lack of courtesy by the Attorney General, the new ‘team’ had to seek an adjournment. To compound matters, the Attorney General did not even brief his new ‘team’ properly. When Tun Majid Tun Hamzah was asked by the High Court judge whether the new ‘team’ could work with the previous ‘team’ in order to ensure there will be no disruption to the proceedings (as the new ‘team’ had yet to familiarise themselves with the facts), the new lead prosecutor was unable to reply. One wonders what instructions were being given in the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Then fast forward to Wednesday evening. The Attorney General then ‘clarified’ that only the lead prosecutor of the previous team, namely Salehuddin Saidin, was being replaced. The reason given this time was because Salehuddin Saidin had been seen playing badminton with the trial judge, Datuk Mohd Zaki Md Yasin. As a result, the Attorney General claims that Salehuddin Saidin had to be replaced supposedly in order to avoid any untoward allegation or adverse public perception against his officers and department as well as the court.
When did that incident happen? No one knows. What were the details of this event? It was not released. Was there more to just a game of badminton? We don’t know. What we do know is that this so-called attempt by the Attorney General to ensure a ‘fair trial’ (we don’t know what that means to him), has now unfairly cast aspersions on the credibility of both Salehuddin Saidin and Justice Datuk Mohd Zaki Md. Yasin. To say that both these men cannot attain a high sense of professionalism and ethics in the course of their business simply because they had a game of badminton is clearly to insult their ability and credibility and our intelligence and sensibilities.
If playing badminton with a judge is enough for a senior Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) to be deemed unfit to prosecute the murder case of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu because it purportedly creates a negative perception, then what about the Abdul Gani himself (when he was a DPP) and another DPP who were alleged via a statutory declaration to having requested Dato’ Nallakaruppan to fabricate evidence against Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which then formed the basis of an application for them to be disqualified? (nb: See Zainur Zakaria v PP  3 CLJ 673). Shouldn’t Abdul Gani as a DPP then, as well as the other DPP, be replaced as well? After all, they are accused of worse things – illegal things – as opposed to a mere game of badminton? Why wasn’t there any consistency? Or do the Attorney General’s Chambers in Malaysia apply these principles of integrity selectively? Can such principles be applied in that fashion?
And if it is true that it was intended for only Salehuddin Saidin to be replaced in the first place, then why was the other DPP, Noorin Badaruddin, also taken off from the conduct of the case as announced by Tun Majid Tun Hamzah on Monday? Why wasn’t she part of the ‘new’ team as suggested by the High Court judge in order to avoid any unnecessary disruption of the trial? What ‘games’ did she play with the judge so as to warrant her exit from the case? All of a sudden, from replacing the ‘team’ as was announced on Monday, the matter has now been reduced to merely replacing the lead prosecutor of the previous ‘team’. It wouldn’t come as surprise if subsequently, Noorin Badaruddin will be brought back into the prosecution team. In any event, one could not help to assume that perhaps Salehuddin Saidin was merely made a scapegoat in order to mask the actual reason for the change. One also cannot help assume that the real reasons stated for these shenanigans are not what the Attorney General wants us to believe.
And if the Attorney General is so concerned about the negative perception that would arise as a result of the badminton ‘flings’, what about the negative perceptions that could arise if, hypothetically speaking, one of the senior DPPs in the new ‘team’ used to work and serve together with the trial judge as DPPs in a particular state or if the said senior DPP also used to share the same abode during their stints as DPPs in that particular state? What about the social and sports functions held between the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary? Surely there must be some camaraderie between the said senior DPP and the trial judge. Wouldn’t these ‘hypothetical’ examples give rise to negative perceptions as well?
In the ordinary course of proceedings, if there is any real concern about the impartiality in the manner of which the trial will be conducted arising from the relationship between any of the parties with the trial judge, it is a common practice for an application to recuse the trial judge to be made. But then again, this is no ordinary trial, this is a ‘sensitive’ case where so many parties have been either changed or replaced. The only party which has yet to be replaced is the accused and the Attorney General. As the latter’s explanation has found to be wanting on so many levels, it is perhaps now time for a change of the Attorney General instead.
(This piece first appeared on the website of the Malaysian Bar on 07 June 2007 )