Sunday, May 15, 2022

Behind the uproar over ‘discharge not amounting to acquittal’

While many often equate this with freedom from the charges at hand, a legal expert says this is a common misperception.

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While the phrase “discharge not amounting to an acquittal” or DNAA at court is enough to raise the hackles of some who equate it with freedom from the charges at hand, a legal expert says this is a common misperception among those without a background in law.

Haidar Dziyauddin, the legal adviser of Universiti Teknologi Mara, said confusion often arises when the media covers the prosecution of a case in court before reporting the judge’s decision to issue a DNAA.

Often, he said, the situation sparks speculation and gives rise to a negative perception of the authorities and the judiciary, which are seen as being in cahoots with the accused.

Things become worse when the case involves high-profile individuals such as Riza Aziz, the stepson of former prime minister Najib Razak who was granted a DNAA in 2020 for charges of laundering some US$248 million (RM1.25 billion) linked to 1MDB funds.

“When a decision of DNAA is announced, many automatically assume that the court or authorities like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) have cut a deal with so-called criminals,” Haidar said in an interview with MalaysiaNow.

And frequently, public anger arises over these decisions because DNAA orders are confused with DNA – discharged and acquitted.

These, Haidar said, are two different things.

With a DNAA order, those accused of crimes are released from the charges against them but can be called back to court at any point to face the same charges again.

Sometimes technical issues are at the heart of a DNAA order, he said, and many are unaware that it benefits both sides – the prosecution as well as the defence.

“With a DNAA, the prosecution can restart with stronger evidence which cannot be challenged by the defendant,” he said.

One of the biggest DNAA cases which eventually resulted in a conviction was that of Najib who, on Feb 7, 2019, was granted such an order by the High Court on three additional charges of money laundering amounting to RM47 million.

The following day, however, the Pekan MP was re-prosecuted for the same charges at the Sessions Court.

The case ended when he was convicted of four other charges at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on July 28, 2020.

The four other charges comprised three of criminal breach of trust and one of power abuse involving funds from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.

Haidar said DNAAs aside, the prosecution also employs other strategies to crack down on corruption cases including issuing compounds.

While this does not classify the accused as guilty, it does speed up the process of recovering money or assets gained through illegal means.

“This allows the authorities to cripple crime syndicates on a larger scale,” Haidar said.

“It is akin to releasing the small fry in order to catch the shark.”

For Haidar, the public dissatisfaction over DNAA orders stems from an incomplete understanding of the complexity of investigations into cases involving corruption and money laundering.

“Corruption cases involve at least two people,” he said.

“If many people are involved and the case entails a great deal of money, MACC will of course need more time to investigate before making any arrests to bring down the syndicate.”

In Malaysia, he said, there are no time constraints tied to DNAA orders, which means that suspects can be charged again with the same offence at any point.

“This allows the authorities to take their time to conduct a truly detailed investigation.”

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