KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6 — The grant from US-based Open Society Foundations (OSF) was given to the Bar Council without any conditions attached, Steven Thiru who heads the Malaysian Bar’s executive council said today.
The lawyer also asserted that Malaysian laws do not forbid non-governmental organisations from using foreign funds for research purposes, adding that the Bar Council goes a step further to ensure the money doesn’t originate from a forbidden source.
“We would check to ensure it does not emanate from a proscribed organisation/ individual,” he told Malay Mail Online in a text message on the WhatsApp platform.
“We would insist that no conditions are attached. This grant came with no strings/conditions attached and we could independently use it for the research work,” he added.
Steven was responding to Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who had earlier today described the lawyer’s remarks earlier as irresponsible for allegedly making light of the Bar Council’s funding from the OSF, founded by American business magnate George Soros, whom some Malaysians have accused of having an agenda to topple the Malaysian government.
Steven also pointed to Section 60(1) of the Legal Profession Act 1976, saying it allows the Bar Council to receive grants for purposes of research.
Last Thursday, national newswire Bernama reported Datuk Seri M. Ramachelvam, chair of the Bar Council’s migrants, refugees and immigration affairs committee, saying that the Bar Council had received a US$15,000 (RM53,757) grant from OSF in January 2015 for a research study on migrant workers in Malaysia.
Steven also clarified that he was not making light of OSF’s funding to the Bar Council as reported by a Malay news portal earlier today, which triggered the minister’s scathing remarks.
“I do not think I said ‘tidak kisah’. It may have been in the question put to me. The point I made is that foreign grants for research are not prohibited by our laws,” he said.
Utusan Online who caught up with Steven in Kota Baru, Kelantan earlier today posted an article titled “Majlis Peguam tidak kisah terima dana Soros [Bar Council does not mind receiving Soros’ funds]”.
In the article however, Steven was reported as saying he was bewildered that acceptance of the OSF grant could endanger Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy as claimed by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar recently.
“Soros is not a prohibited person and the OSF fund could come from one contributor or many others,” Steven was quoted as saying by Utusan Online.
The lawyer reportedly stated that the Bar Council has nothing to hide as it only has contacts with OSF and not Soros.
The IGP has formed a special police task force to investigate OSF funding to local NGOs and the Bar Council, under Section 124C of the Penal Code. Those convicted of an “attempt to commit an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” can be punished with a maximum jail term of 15 years.