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Thursday, February 26, 2009

> The Lingam Shocker !

If the Abdullah administration wants to spare itself and the Attorney-General’s Chambers from any odium and ridicule, it should spell out clearly the reasons why no action is being taken against three of the four actors in the V.K. Lingam video clip.

In Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in a written reply that the three cases had been marked “no further action” as there was no evidence to charge them with corruption. He did not identify any of the four individuals.

The problem with that terse reply is that it leaves many questions unanswered, and leaves the administration open to charges of a cover-up.

Who are the four individuals? What section of the Anti-Corruption Act were they investigated under?

How did the A-G reach the conclusion that there was no evidence to charge them? Were the findings of the Royal Commission of any use or did it not meet the threshold of evidence expected in a court of law?

This was not a simple robbery or snatch theft case. The video clip was widely circulated on the Internet in 2007. It showed lawyer V.K. Lingam having a conversation with a senior judge and brokering appointments to the Bench.

Abdullah was forced to convene a three-man panel of investigation after a groundswell of protests about the video clip. When this move did not hush the criticisms, he agreed to the setting of a royal commission.

Considerable resources and time were spent to constitute the commission hearing and much muck was raked up about the alleged shenanigans of outside interference in the appointment of judges.

A few powerful individuals were implicated in the video clip, namely former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Cabinet minister Tengku Adnan Mansor, former Chief Justices Tun Eusoff Chin and Tun Ahmad Fairuz, prominent lawyer V.K. Lingam and corporate figure Tan Sri Vincent Tan.

Serious allegations were made about the fixing of judicial appointments and this cast a dark shadow over the integrity of the legal system.

The commission in its report last year said that “having regard to the totality of the evidence and for the reasons stated, we are of the view that there was, conceivably, an insidious movement by Lingam with the covert assistance of his close friends, Vincent Tan and Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, to involve themselves actively in the appointment of judges, in particular, the appointment of Ahmad Fairuz as the Chief Judge of Malaya and subsequently as Court of Appeal president.

“In the process, Dr Mahathir Mohamad was also entangled. That possibility was ominous when examined against the factual circumstances surrounding the rejection of Malek Ahmad as Chief Judge of Malaya. Their ultimate aim or purpose could not be ascertained with exactitude, given the limitation under the terms of reference. It could be related to the fixing of cases, as submitted by counsel for the Bar and others. Certainly, it is reasonable to suggest that it could not be anything but self-serving.

“It is sufficient for us to state here that the collective and cumulative actions of the main characters concerned, had the effect of seriously undermining and eroding the independence and integrity of the judiciary as a whole.

“For the moment, we would state that there is sufficient cause to invoke the Sedition Act 1948, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961, the Legal Profession Act 1976, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the Penal Code against some of the principal individuals involved. We do not discount the possibility of other laws being contravened. In any case, the findings have, at the very least, provided the catalyst for further investigations so that, hopefully, there would be complete transparency and full accountability.”

By relying on a bare bones written answer, the Abdullah administration has failed the test of transparency and full accountability.

Among members of the royal commission were former Chief Judge of Malaya Haidar Mohamed Noor, former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Steve Shim, former Solicitor-General Zaitun Zawiyah Puteh and retired Court of Appeal judge Mahadev Shankar. They know the law and they know about evidence. They put their decades of experience and expertise on the line when they said that there was sufficient cause to invoke the Sedition Act and other legislation against some of the actors in the video clip.

If the A-G’s Chambers disagrees with their findings, then Tan Sri Gani Patail should come forward and explain why.

Did the commission members rely on hearsay? Did they overstep the boundaries of their terms of reference?

All along there has been a hint that the government would have liked this whole episode to vaporise.

Abdullah only consented to making the commission’s report public because there was overwhelming public pressure and he was in a weak position after Election 2008. Some senior members of his Cabinet were dead set against the public findings out the contents of the report.

Abdullah’s tepid written reply in Parliament yesterday will only provide ammunition for those who charged that the government was never really interested in what the royal commission had to say about the nasty video business - The Malaysian Insider.