A prominent lawyer warns of a grim legal and political battle ahead for Anwar Ibrahim, following the recent High Court decision to allow a suit seeking to declare his royal pardon two years ago invalid.
Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who represents the leader of a little known political party challenging the royal pardon in 2018 which saw Anwar’s release from prison, said the impending trial could give rise to an unprecedented case in Malaysia.
“As far as I know, there has never been an instance where a royal pardon was revoked,” Haniff, a criminal lawyer who has been involved in high-profile cases and acted on behalf of former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad, told MalaysiaNow.
He said at the heart of the challenge by his client Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz, vice-president of the year-old Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia, is whether the Pardons Board’s decision to lift the sodomy conviction against Anwar was constitutionally valid.
“In Malaysian history, there has never been a case where a pardon is granted for the conviction,” he said.
He said in the past, royal pardons did not mean expunging one’s conviction, but were only to free the convict of the sentence.
This, said Haniff, was also the case when Mokhtar Hashim, a former youth and sports minister, was granted a pardon and freed from his sentence of life-time imprisonment over his conviction for the murder of the Negeri Sembilan speaker in 1982.
“The pardon was for the punishment, not the conviction, because he is still guilty of murder,” he added.
When he was released in May 2018, Anwar’s lawyer R Sivarasa reportedly said the Agong had granted the PKR leader a full pardon which expunged him of all past convictions.
Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison after the Federal Court upheld a sodomy conviction against him in 2014.
He was released about a week after Pakatan Harapan’s election victory in May 2018 when he was granted a pardon by then-Agong Sultan Muhammad V, a move which fulfilled the coalition’s promise to prepare him to take over leadership of the country.
Khairul, in his statement of claim, questioned among others the composition of the Pardons Board.
He said it was impossible for the Pardons Board to convene in the absence of a valid attorney general, who would be part of the board.
“If the court agrees that the composition of the Pardons Board was illegal, the pardon is also invalid,” said Haniff.
Had the pardon been directed at Anwar’s jail sentence, he said, there could still be questions over the validity of the PKR chief’s by-election victory in Port Dickson in October 2018, as he would still have to abide by a five-year ban on active politics.
But Haniff said Anwar could still avoid being booted out as MP as any move to challenge the by-election result should have been filed within three months of the polling date.
“In any case, in the event that the court decides that the royal pardon is fully or partially invalid, it will raise questions about Anwar’s qualification as an MP, and ultimately it will be for the Dewan Rakyat speaker to decide,” he said.
Days before the by-election, then attorney-general Tommy Thomas said Anwar was qualified to contest as he had been granted a “full pardon” by the Agong.
“Accordingly, by virtue of Article 48(1)(e) of the Federal Constitution, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is not disqualified from standing as a candidate for the forthcoming by-election for the Port Dickson constituency,” Thomas wrote to lawyer Siti Kasim in September 2018.
Haniff said he did not think that Anwar would return to prison even if the court nullifies his pardon.
“But that question will be answered depending on the approach taken by the court, and which part of the suit is the focus,” he said.
Khairul’s suit is fixed for trial in March next year. Anwar’s defence team meanwhile has filed an appeal to strike out the suit.
Additional reporting by Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh.