Saturday, February 20, 2021

A special court to expedite politicians’ graft trials?

A senior lawyer says the emergency period is the right time to establish such a court, while another says any move towards this end would be bound by the constitution.

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A prominent lawyer has proposed a special court to try the scores of criminal cases involving politicians, saying the emergency period would be the best time to do so.

Haniff Khatri Abdulla said the establishment of such a court would help resolve the bottleneck of cases involving former government leaders, and that the virus emergency declared last week could be used towards that end.

He said with the emergency powers, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong could enact special laws that would allow all criminal charges involving politicians to be brought to a special court such as this until they are concluded.

Since 2018, hundreds of charges have been slapped against senior politicians, with the 1MDB-related cases involving former prime minister Najib Razak in the international limelight.

Apart from Najib, his former deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as well as Umno leaders Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Ahmad Maslan, Abdul Azeez Rahim and Shahrir Samad have also been charged with multiple counts of corruption involving millions of ringgit.

Following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, a corruption case involving DAP’s Lim Guan Eng was also revived.

Najib, among the politicians convicted of corruption, will be appealing next month to quash his 12-year jail sentence and RM220 million penalty on charges of misappropriating some RM42 million in funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd.

Haniff is confident that the special court would allow trials to conclude more quickly as the presiding judge would not be distracted by other cases.

“And with a guarantee that it would not compromise the right to defence or prejudice the legal principles,” Haniff told MalaysiaNow.

Another senior lawyer said any establishment of such a court must be within a constitutional framework.

“It should comply with Articles 121, 122AA and 122AB of the constitution,” constitutional lawyer Nizam Bashir said to MalaysiaNow.

He said the appointment of judges to such a court should also fulfil Article 122B.

Under the emergency powers, he said, the Agong could invoke his authority under Article 150(2B) to promulgate ordinances.

“These ordinances will be valid for six months after which they will expire,” he added.

Last week, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in detailing the state of emergency assured that the executive would not meddle with the judiciary despite the power to enact tough laws in efforts to battle the pandemic.

His statement was interpreted by one analyst as a warning to the so-called “court cluster” – a pandemic-laced phrase used on MPs facing criminal charges – that they could forget about entering into any deal for an acquittal.

“It is a warning to all those in the court cluster, not only Najib,” academic Shamsul Amri Baharuddin told MalaysiaNow.

Najib has emerged as the most vocal critic of the Perikatan Nasional administration, taking daily potshots at the government’s Covid-19 containment measures under the movement control order (MCO).

Restrictions under the MCO have led to the delay of many trials, including the 1MDB audit report tampering case involving Najib and the company’s CEO, Arul Kanda Kandasamy.

The trial will now proceed at the High Court on Feb 22.

Meanwhile, Zahid’s cases on multiple charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and bribery were last tried in October last year, while the undersea tunnel corruption trial involving Lim will begin in June.

Haniff is confident that all these cases can be completed earlier if tried by a dedicated court.

“But there need to be laws,” he added.

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