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The Latheefa Koya story

Najib (left) will cite Latheefa and the MACC.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

January 13, 2020.

Recollections & Reflections

SO we now have this confirmation from his lawyer that former prime minister Najib Razak will cite the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and its chief Latheefa Koya for contempt over the release of audio clips last week.

Online portal malaysiakini carried the report on this today after being told by Najib’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

Latheefa last Wednesday held a press conference that was telecast live to reveal the contents from audio recordings of phone conversations between Najib and several others, including his wife Rosmah Mansor.

This decision by Najib will eventually lead to closure on what has been a most contentious issue, with most lawyers quoted by the media objecting to what Latheefa did. Rightly so that Najib should be the one to take legal action, not only because Latheefa had challenged him to, but because he is the one most maligned by the revelation. If I were Najib’s lawyer I wouldn’t bother too much about the contents. All that is needed is to just focus solely on the move to make those recordings public because while we are all for justice and the truth, there is also what is called fairness, regardless of the person at the wrong end of the stick.

Since what transpired had never been seen in Malaysia before, it would be worthwhile to take a look at Latheefa herself.

No one saw her appointment coming

Her appointment in June 2019 as MACC’s chief commissioner surprised many Malaysians, not because she was not academically qualified but due to her political leanings and being a central committee member of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat or PKR. This, many thought, would surely affect her neutrality and independence, especially as head of an agency most people want not only to be independent but be seen to be independent.

For the most part since, law graduate Latheefa Beebi Koya, the 46-year-old born in Kerala, India, had done reasonably well, with nothing in her decisions hinting at political bias. But it all changed last week, with her tell-all revelation on nine audio recordings implicating former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor and identifying the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan as one of those in the phone conversations.

The knives were quickly out and although the tapes didn’t reveal anything purely political, the manner the revelation was done hinted that politics was hovering somewhere in the background and that it could have been a move to demonise and embarrass Najib further, leaving the man to hang to dry when the most proper and legal way would be to first investigate if there was a hint Najib had committed an offence under the MACC Act. Any possible offences under the Penal Code are a jurisdiction of the police.

Understandably Latheefa has her backers, of whom one referenced legal points and quoted examples mainly from American jurisdiction which have laws, legal traditions and conventions so different to Malaysia’s.

There was a statement from the ex-servicemen’s NGO Patriot that also lauded Latheefa’s decision but this did not carry any legal reasoning and has the kind of political undertones often found in most of the organisation’s statements on other issues.

That the legal eagles have not quoted authorities or precedents under Malaysian law is simply because what Latheefa did was without precedent, although mention was made about the display of confiscated luxury items seized by the police in 2018 after Najib’s government was defeated in the May elections as being similar.

Most lawyers quoted by the media disagreed with Latheefa

LawAmong lawyers who disagree with Latheefa’s revelations are DAP Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh, his sister Sangeet Kaur Deo, Malaysian Bar chairman Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor and Haniff Khatri Abdullah, who once represented Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Also saying that Latheefa needed to explain he decision was PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

Words used included improper, regrettable, shocking and appalling and the phrase trial by media.

With regard to the possible offences, it was argued that among those cited by Latheefa are under the Panl Code and thus a matter for the police to investigate, not the MACC.

The fact that the display of the luxury items was not condemned by anyone or was not a subject of legal action by Najib does not make it right or lawful. Neither is the decision by various enforcement agencies to sometimes reveal publicly the identities of those to be charged or being remanded. It is a gamble agencies take, with the hope that they will not be sued.     

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.