Lawyers raise eyebrows at 1MDB critic’s arrest under anti-terror law

Syahredzan Johan addresses the audience during the Projek Dialog forum titled 'Melayu dan makna-maknanya' in Petaling Jaya, June 6, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Syahredzan Johan addresses the audience during the Projek Dialog forum titled 'Melayu dan makna-maknanya' in Petaling Jaya, June 6, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — Despite previous assurances, Putrajaya’s use of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) critic Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan has revived old fears of power abuse against dissenters.

Several civil rights lawyers contacted by Malay Mail Online pointed out that Khairuddin’s action of filing reports abroad against the state-owned strategic development firm hardly constituted a criminal offence or one risking parliamentary democracy, let alone an activity that could inspire terror against the government.

“The question that should be answered by the authorities is this- how is this a crime?

“Lodging reports against individuals or a company is not detrimental to Parliamentary democracy, contrary to the initial investigations conducted on Khairuddin and which resulted in his initial remand for six days,” Syahredzan Johan said in a text message to Malay Mail Online.

He was referring to Khairuddin’s first arrest last Friday after he was denied boarding a flight to New York to lodge a complaint with US officials on 1MDB, on suspicion of acting to “topple the government” under Section 124C of the Penal Code.

The court subsequently ordered the police to release the former Penang Umno leader, but he was arrested again moments after he walked out of the court late yesterday afternoon, this time under the controversial SOSMA, which replaced the equally controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) as a law to combat the growing threat of terrorism in the country and which also provides for detention-without-trial for up to 29 days.

Syahredzan noted that the government through its own actions, has opened itself up to public condemnation by wrongful application of the law, deepened after the second arrest.

He pointed out that the authorities’ claim that Khairuddin had breached Sections 124 K and L of the Penal Code — which deals with crimes of sabotage against the country — does not hold water against an investment company, even if state-owned.

“It would be incredible to argue or claim that what Khairuddin did falls under any of those limbs.124B, 124C, 124K and 124L are all offences against the State. Not offences against 1MDB or individuals in the Government.

“How is lodging reports against 1MDB ‘intending to cause harm for the interests of foreign powers’?” Syahredzan asked, quoting from the Penal Code.

New Sin Yew who specialises in criminal law shared the same view and condemned the two arrests as power abuse.

“Lodging complaints on 1MDB with foreign law enforcement authorities are lawful. So it’s clearly an abuse of SOSMA,” he said in a text message to Malay Mail Online.

Founder of legal protection group Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, believes the authorities are punishing Khairuddin for going against the ruling party and turning on 1MDB.

“So now we’ve seen that it has clearly been abused against Khairuddin whose offense was basically to change masters and go against the prime minister and Umno,” he said in a phone interview with the Malay Mail Online.

“By using SOSMA against someone like Khairuddin who has merely lodged police reports overseas surely must be a grave abuse of this very draconian act,” he added in a later text message.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen speaks at Wisma HELP, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. December 11, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen speaks at Wisma HELP, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. December 11, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

New warned that Khairuddin’s arrest could also affect foreign investigations into the indebted 1MDB as he would no longer be able to effectively operate as the complainant.

“By using SOSMA, government would be frustrating the investigations conducted by foreign law enforcement authorities,” he said.

“Well, Khairuddin was lodging complaints overseas and he would be assisting the investigations since he is the complainant, wouldn’t he?”

The lawyers noted that when SOSMA had raised questions when its proposal was mooted in Parliament, as its wide definitions left it susceptible to abuse, especially against “political adversaries.”

New pointed out that SOSMA was intended to target “organised terror groups” like the Philippine-based Muslim militant group Abu Syyaf and the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah when it was first proposed.

“Basically it’s quite shocking; we all know SOSMA, when initially mooted in Parliament, everybody raised the red flag that the manner in which it was drafted ,it was wide and it would be prone to abuse. Numerous assurances were given by the government and ministers that it wouldn’t be used against non-terrorism activities.

“This is hardly a terrorism-related activity. That’s not a real criminal offence,” Paulsen said of Khairuddin’s arrest.

The police however have maintained that Khairuddin’s attempt to solicit foreign investigations into 1MDB was an act of sabotage and a danger to Malaysia’s economy and sovereignty, as well as a disservice to the country’s law enforcement agencies.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the former Umno leader should have provided any evidence in his possession to local investigators for their own use, given that he initially lodged a report against the firm here in Malaysia.

The former deputy chief of the Umno Batu Kawan division had been on a global tour to solicit investigations by other countries into 1MDB.

The WSJ has published a series of reports detailing dubious activity allegedly involving 1MDB, beginning with an exposé in July on the US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) deposit in Najib’s accounts.

It followed up last month with another report alleging that US$1.4 billion in payments from 1MDB to a UAE sovereign fund was missing from the Middle Eastern firm’s accounts.

WSJ’s July report, in particular, appeared to trigger a series of events in Malaysia that eventually led to the amount being declared a donation from the Middle East while local investigations into 1MDB were also either suspended or repurposed.

Najib has denied any impropriety over the US$700 million donation, which was described as a political donation to the Umno party that he heads.  

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