Former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre) recited a prayer after the High Court today acquitted him of 40 charges of corruption in relation to the Overseas Visa System (VLN). BERNAMAPIX

by MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) notes that prosecution failure in the recent Zahid Hamidi’s case raises questions on the independence, competence and professionalism of prosecutors in Malaysia, and the need for reform and laws to safeguard independence of deputy public prosecutors, and to criminalize wrongful actions/omissions of prosecutors done intentionally or negligently for the benefit of the accused.

Former Deputy Prime Minister, UMNO President and Barisan Nasional Chairperson Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in this case was facing 33 charges of receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million (RM42 million) from UKSB as inducement for himself in his capacity as a civil servant and the then home minister to extend the contract of the company as the operator of the One Stop Centres in China and the VLN system as well as to maintain the agreement to supply VLN integrated system paraphernalia to the same company by the Home Ministry.

He was also charged with another 7 counts as home minister who obtained S$1.15 million, RM3 million, CHF15,000 and US$15,000 in cash from the same company for himself in connection with his official work. (Malay Mail, 23/9/2022)

It was reported that the High Court Judge on 23/9/2022 found that prosecution failed at the close of prosecution case to successfully prove a prima facie case against Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also Bagan Datuk MP, on not just some charges but all 40 bribery charges.

The judge found that the prosecution failed to call ‘material witnesses’ and adduce certain evidence. (Malay Mail, 23/9/2022). Zahid Hamidi was acquitted without even having to enter his defence.

Before anyone is charged of an offence, prosecutors must verily belief that they have sufficient evidence to present in court to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

To not do so may be considered an abuse of power on the part of the prosecution. In any event, at the end of the day, prosecution still needs to convince the Judge or court, that an accused person is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, or at the close of prosecution case that a prima facie case has been established against the accused.

Failed To Call Material Witness

In the Zahid Hamidi case, the judge was reported that the prosecution failed to important witnesses to ascertain the source of the funds allegedly paid to Ahmad Zahid, amongst others, one “…’Nicole Tan’ was not called to testify to provide clarifications on the missing link by explaining the nature of the arrangement between UKSB and the Hong Kong subcontractors of which the monies allegedly paid to Ahmad Zahid was derived from….

“The witness from Hong Kong including Nicole would be able to provide an explanation on the actual source of funds especially given that all three key prosecution witnesses confirmed the source of the monies paid to the accused did not originate from UKSB,” he {Judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa] said….”

Of concern also, is the fact of not calling material witnesses has happened before in cases involving politicians and those allegedly connected to politicians. Similar findings arose in the cases of Kasitah Kaddam’s (then Minister of Energy and Natural Resources of Malaysia 1999–2004) and business tycoon Eric Chia.

In the Kasitah Kaddam’s case, it was reported ‘…Justice Suraya said the failure of the prosecution in not calling six board members who were present in the meeting was detrimental to the case as it had created a big gap over the question of whether the board members were actually cheated by the accused….’(Star, 13/8/2009, Kasitah freed of corruption charges)

In Eric Chia’s case, ‘…Akhtar[then Sessions Court judge Akhtar Tahir now High Court Judge] said the most glaring setback was the prosecution’s failure to call two material witnesses, who would have been able to confirm whether payment was needed for the technical assistance agreements (TAA) signed between Perwaja Rolling Mill Development and NKK Corporation. (Star, 27/6/2007, Eric Chia acquitted of CBT)

Failed to adduce CCTV footage, toll receipts and envelope

It was reported that ‘the prosecution did not produce any sample envelope used for the alleged cash payments, remarking that he found it hard to imagine what kind of envelope could fit the bill stacks amounting to hundreds of thousands at the material time….’

‘Neither close-circuit television footage nor toll receipts on delivery visits to Ahmad Zahid’s house or the deputy prime minister’s official residence — where the offences allegedly took place — were produced in court to support the prosecution’s case.’

There is a need to now question whether the Deputy Public Prosecutors acted independently and professionally, or whether they were compromised by ‘corruption’ or orders/instruction from their superiors or others.

MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) believes that Deputy Public Prosecutors handling any criminal case should be independent even from the orders/instruction of the Public Prosecutor, Minister, government/s of the day.

MADPET is of the opinion that mis-handling of prosecution duties intentionally and/or negligently for the benefit of the accused or any person who could be charged ought to be criminalized. One wonders whether if another independent Deputy Public Prosecutor was handling this case, would it have led to same outcome for Zahid Hamidi.

Appeal to the Court of Appeal

Now, in Zahid Hamidi’s, the High Court judge could have erred in his judgment to acquit, and as such it is important that the prosecution immediately files an appeal to the Court of Appeal. We know that many cases, the Appellate Court reversed decisions of the lower court.

In this case, MADPET urges the Public Prosecutor to immediately appeal to the Court of Appeal, as it is best that the Appellate Court confirms to us in Malaysia whether there was an error of judgment on the part of the High Court judge, or not.

Irrelevant to this particular case, it is fresh in the minds of Malaysians what was reported in another case, where the transactions are vide cheques not cash, where Zahid is accused of receiving bribes amounting to RM6 million from Chew as a reward for appointing DTSB to implement a passport chip project for a period of five years or for a total of 12.5 million chips to be included in the polycarbonate biodata page of Malaysia’s international passport by the immigration department through direct negotiations under the home ministry.

In that case, Zahid Hamidi repeatedly stressed that he chose not to deposit the money into his accounts or use it for his personal benefit. “Even though at that time I was holding the post of deputy president (of Umno) and that money could be used for political purposes, I chose to use it neither for politics nor for personal purposes, but instead to channel it for charity, waqf and religious activities,” he said…”If money is given to a politician, he has the discretion to deposit it into his own account or any other account he deems fit,” he said.(Malaysia Now, 22/8/2022)

Given this, MADPET reiterates its call that the prosecution files an immediate appeal to the Court of Appeal so that Malaysian doubts on the correctness of the High Court’s decision to acquit without defence being called was correct or not.

Acquittal is not proof of innocence

In the administration of criminal justice, an acquittal is not proof of innocence. It is simply a failure of the prosecution to prove guilt by establishing a prima facie case at the close of prosecution, or at the end of trial failing to prove beyond reasonable doubt that crime accused had been committed.

Acquittal means Zahid Hamidi can never again be charged for the same offence nor on the same facts for any other offence for which a different charge from the one made against him might have been made. MADPET reiterates its call that the court should not acquit anyone when prosecution elects to discontinue the proceedings mid-trial, they should just be granted a Discharge Not Amounting an Acquittal (DNAA).

In the current case, if the prosecution at any time during trial found the evidence insufficient, it could have elected to sought a long postponement or to discontinue proceedings, and the court could have ordered a DNAA. Then, they could secure more evidence required to continue with prosecution.

It is not uncommon for prosecution witnesses to disappear or suddenly change their statement, or for evidence to be lost. Recall, the Malaysian former spy case, where the money seized and kept by MACC, was taken by a MACC officer (now already convicted), who then replaced it with counterfeit money.

MADPET, noting that the power lies with the Public Prosecutor, to immediately file an appeal to the Court of Appeal with regard the decision of the High Court judge to acquit Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the close of prosecution stage of trial.

MADPET also calls for an investigation of the Deputy Public Prosecutors involved in this case, to determine whether there was any failure of duty, intentionally or otherwise.

MADPET also calls for reform and/or laws to ensure the independence of Deputy Public Prosecutors handling a particular criminal case, including the freedom from instruction/orders from others including government of the day.

Noting one public perception that Malaysian laws and administration of criminal justice accords preferential treatment to politicians and/or those with ‘connections’ to the government of the day or maybe tomorrow. which contrary to Constitutional guarantee in Article 8(1) that states, ‘All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’.

Malaysia need to also review and strengthen the mechanisms including safeguards to ensure the independence of the judiciary, prosecutors and law enforcers.

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