A senior lawyer has scoffed at a claim that he was eyeing the attorney-general’s post under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, saying others who were likewise named by Tommy Thomas as habouring such ambitions “would not stoop to the same level as him”.
“Since 2013, by his own admission, he wanted to be the AG. Don’t put all of us in the same category,” Haniff Khatri Abdulla, a criminal lawyer whose clients include former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, told MalaysiaNow.
“We are not dishonorable like he is. We do not fight for our own interest but for the nation,” he said, referring to a claim by Thomas in his book “My Story: Justice in the Wilderness” which gives his account of what transpired during PH’s 22 months in power.
“This is the man who has admitted to having a desire in his small mind of becoming the AG. And now, he lumps others together claiming they too had a similar goal,” Haniff added.
Haniff said while he had opposed Thomas’ appointment as attorney-general from the beginning, he had never wanted the job for himself.
Instead, he said he had proposed four other names to Mahathir: former judges Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and Mohd Hishamudin Md Yunus, as well as senior counsel Mohd Yusof Zainal Abiden and Salehuddin Saidin.
“If I were so desperate for the job like Tommy, why would I propose these people of high calibre? I could have just asked Tun to appoint me on the first day itself as I was together with him, waiting outside the palace (for the swearing-in as PM) for almost 24 hours,” said Haniff.
In his new book, written with the help of several politicians including DAP’s Liew Ching Tong and Syahredzan Johan, as well as former Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan and businessman Kalimullah Hassan of ECM Libra Group, Thomas admitted to having eyed the top legal post since 2013, during an election year which the opposition did not win.
Thomas also claimed that two other senior members of the legal fraternity, Karpal Singh and Salleh Abas – both of whom were deceased at the time the book was published – had endorsed him for the post. He also said the matter had been kept a secret among his family members and close associates.
Thomas was appointed to the post in 2018 following PH’s election victory and resigned some 20 months later after the collapse of the PH government in February last year.
‘Three persons vying for AG’
In his book, Thomas referred to a gathering of PH leaders which he attended at the Sheraton Hotel in Petaling Jaya on the night of the 2018 general election, when the coalition was on the brink of power.
He named two legal personalities who were there, suggesting they too were eyeing the AG’s post.
“We were shocked to see Gopal Sri Ram,” he said, referring to the former Federal Court judge who is currently leading the prosecution in the Najib Razak trials.
“As was his wont, he immediately surrounded himself with Tun Dr Mahathir, and the other leaders of Pakatan.”
He then claimed that Haniff and another lawyer close to Muhyiddin Yassin also wanted to be the AG, adding that Haniff did not stand a chance as Mahathir, who was to be named prime minister, would not appoint his own lawyer to the post.
“Further, Haniff was not acceptable to any of the other coalition partners. There were rumours about Roslan Dahlan [sic] being pushed by Muhyiddin Yassin. None of us had realised that Sri Ram was interested,” wrote Tommy.
When contacted, lawyer Rosli Dahlan said Thomas’ admission of striking a bargain with DAP and opposition leaders to be made the AG in 2013 was worrying.
“That brings into question his decision to discontinue the prosecution in the LTTE cases and the corruption cases on Lim Guan Eng,” Rosli said
He was referring to Thomas’ decision to drop terrorism charges against DAP members accused of supporting Sri Lanka’s Tamil militants, as well as the decision to acquit the DAP secretary-general of a corruption charge.
“Just as Thomas pontificates about accountability, he must be brought to account not only for his indiscretion but also for breaching the various provisions of the law on government, state and client secrecy and privilege,” Rosli added.
‘Yes, I am not popular’
Haniff meanwhile agreed with Thomas’ view about his standing with politicians.
“DAP does not like me, many in Bersatu also do not like me. I am not naive. People don’t like me because I am strict with the constitution and the law.”
He gave two reasons why he felt Thomas was not qualified for the AG’s job.
He said Thomas had never once handled criminal cases.
“That is why he himself appointed Sri Ram and V Sithambaran to lead the prosecution in the SRC and 1MDB trials,” said Haniff, adding that Thomas’ inability to converse in the national language was also a concern.