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KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Former minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor asked the High Court today to view his previous sworn declarations of assets to past prime ministers without the presence of the public and the media.
His lawyer argued that this was necessary to avoid possible hostility to him and his family and to prevent their safety from being compromised.
Tengku Adnan, who is currently on trial for allegedly receiving a RM2 million bribe from a businessman in 2016, previously asserted in court that the RM2 million was a donation for Umno’s by-election expenses.
Tengku Adnan had previously also said he did not need the RM2 million for himself, stating that he was already a successful businessman before he first joined Cabinet in 2001.
Tengku Adnan’s lawyer Datuk Tan Hock Chuan today asked the court to exclude the public from being present when he asks additional questions to his client regarding the latter’s declaration of assets while in government to three different prime ministers in 2001, 2006, 2013 and 2016.
“The declaration of assets is basically a compilation of confidential information not only of my client, but also his family members, his wife and children, as well as details of assets,” the lawyer told the High Court.
“These declarations of assets when made at the material time were only disclosed to the prime minister, one person, only to the prime minister,” Tan said, arguing that there is no danger of these documents being fictitious or an afterthought as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is aware of the practice of asset declarations to the prime minister.
Tan said Tengku Adnan’s legal team was only prepared to let the judge and the prosecution view the declaration of assets, but not to have it publicised due to the confidential nature of the information contained.
Tan based his application for in-camera proceedings on Section 15(1) of the Courts of Judicature Act, which provides for the court’s power to hear any court proceedings in camera if it is satisfied that it is expedient in the interests of justice, public safety, public security or propriety, or for other sufficient reasons to do so.
“The public would have to be excluded as well as reporters, but parties are not excluded. I emphasise we are only asking for a small part of the proceedings to be in camera, just those four questions,” Tan said, referring to his planned additional questions to Tengku Adnan on the four paragraphs in Tengku Adnan’s witness statement which touched on the four asset declarations.
Tan, who was arguing for an in-camera proceeding in the “interests of justice” and “sufficient reasons”, explained that he did not intend to have the court to go through all the details of Tengku Adnan’s assets but to prove his financial position and lack of intention to take RM2 million for himself.
“We are not asking My Lord to read every page, we are not even going to refer to every page of the declarations of assets. The purpose of the defence is to show what is the amount of assets which the accused have declared to the prime minister because our case is that he did not have mens rea, he did not have intention.
“The accused should be given the opportunity to prove he is not a person of such intentions criminal, he does not need the RM2 million because he got this amount of money, more than enough. In fact, we are adducing that he is always the one who advances money for his party,” he said of Tengku Adnan who is currently Umno treasurer and former Umno secretary-general.
While agreeing that Tengku Adnan’s asset declarations are not official secrets, Tan said that Tengku Adnan did not want to expose his family to public scrutiny and also to avoid possible hostility against him and his family.
Citing a past drug case where the trial judge has the discretion to hear part of the trial in camera when he felt there is hostility from the public in court, Tan said: “The point I’m making is the High Court judge has wide discretion. Our case is not hostility from the public gallery, the hostility may come after if the document is available in the public eye, social media what have you. It’s not difficult for documents like these once tendered and marked, to be available easily. That’s the fear of the client and his family.”
Tan also said that if the judge agrees to hear matters regarding Tengku Adnan’s asset declarations in private, this would mean that any related evidence and the documents on the declared assets would not be reported or published or disseminated to the public.
Deputy public prosecutor Julia Ibrahim objected to Tengku Adnan’s application for in-camera proceedings, arguing that Tengku Adnan’s lawyer has not shown how this would be in the interests of justice and also arguing that the asset declaration documents are not privileged documents with confidential information.
While noting that the Prime Minister’s Department’s Code of Ethics for members of the administration requires all members of administration — including Tengku Adnan then — to declare their assets and their family’s assets to the prime minister, Julia said this code of ethics did not say that such declarations are to be classified or to be privileged documents.
Julia also argued that Tengku Adnan’s lawyer had not shown “sufficient reasons” for an in camera hearing, questioning the basis for the potential public hostility if the asset details are made known.
“I think it’s a well-known and accepted fact and as explained by the accused in his witness statement that he is a successful businessman before he entered politics. People already know he is a wealthy person, a successful businessman, so the knowledge about how much he has, that he declared to the prime minister, will not shock anyone.
“It is already public knowledge, his wealth, his business, it is public knowledge. Only to say that it may cause hostility to him and his family after it becomes public knowledge, it is not sufficient reason for the court to exercise the jurisdiction,” she argued, stating that it would be different if threats to the accused or his family due to their wealth is cited.
While acknowledging that the asset declaration was only to the prime minister and is not a public document, Julia argued that Tengku Adnan himself decided to present in court to support his case and that he would have to take the risk of the matter becoming public.
“If he decides to submit whatever document in support of his case in a public trial, then you run the risk of the public knowing, having access to those documents, I’m sure it is a calculated risk that he takes to support his trial,” she said.
Julia also cited a past court ruling involving a public listed company where the court had ruled that mere sensitivity to publicity is not enough to justify a private hearing.
In response, Tan also noted that his application was only for a limited part of the trial to be kept private, contrasting it with Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s case where the latter had sought for a gag order on the media from discussing the merits of the criminal charges in his SRC International Sdn Bhd case until the end of trial.
Tan also pointed to the confidential nature of information in Tengku Adnan’s declarations, noting that the declarations contained details such as the total value of his assets, details on his wife, children, siblings.
“How does it benefit the public to know all this? What for, My Lord? What for? We are not here for glamour, publicity. There is no specific provision or clause to say the asset declaration is public.
“So he’s a wealthy man, he’s a very wealthy man. But the asset declarations contains so many more details, about his wife, his children, his in-laws, his parents,” he said.
Tan also said that his client’s application was not based on sensitivity to publicity.
“We are not talking about sensitivity. Our application is founded on the provision that there is sufficient reasons so to do, in that the safety of the family of the accused and the accused himself will not be compromised. We are not worried about sensitivity, too late to worry about how a person feels because we have come to court,” he said.
Tan said he would not be tendering the asset declarations to the court or show them to the judge if the application for in-camera proceedings is not allowed.
Tengku Adnan’s lawyer and the prosecution presented their arguments and past court rulings for about an hour and a half.
When the trial resumes this afternoon, High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan will deliver his decision on whether to allow this part of the trial involving additional questions on Tengku Adnan’s wealth and his statutory declarations on his assets to be heard in camera or heard privately without the public being present.