KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — A prominent group of lawyers consisting of former Malaysian Bar presidents have questioned the discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) granted to Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, demanding a proper explanation from the attorney general (AG) following uncertainties surrounding the actual reason behind the decision.
In a lengthy statement released today, the group of law experts pointed out a myriad of elements surrounding Riza Aziz’s DNAA which they deemed questionable, including the legality of the decision and if it was the strength of the prosecution’s case that was in question, also touching on the logic behind the supposed settlement amount agreed in Riza Aziz’s deal.
Calling the DNAA granted to Riza Aziz “perplexing”, the group first pointed out how there were no prior indications made by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to suggest a weak case by the prosecution, or that it would fail.
In the same breath, they then pointed out the existence of incriminating recordings supposedly of phone conversations between Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is Riza Aziz’s stepfather, and a Middle Eastern royal that were released by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
They apparently revealed an attempt by Najib to concoct an agreement with the royal as an alleged cover-up of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fiasco and funds related to his stepson.
Concerning the legality of such a DNAA decision, the group questioned if the reported decision to compel Riza Aziz to return assets of around US$108 million (RM470.5 million), US$14 million in cash, and a compound payable up to RM500,000 was lawful.
On the compound, the statement explained that in the Anti Money-Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001, under which Riza Aziz was charged, Section 92(1) to (4) suggests or envisages a compound may be applicable to the accused only before he has been prosecuted.
“After charges are laid, Section 92 is no longer applicable, and only the AG qua Public Prosecutor has carriage of the matter.
“The AG should look into rescinding the settlement and reinstituting the charges against Riza Aziz, on the grounds that the agreement could well be unlawful and in contravention of the provisions of Section 92,” read the statement.
This comes after an agreement had been reached between Riza’s legal representations and the AGC, resulting in the granting of the DNAA earlier this month, over his five counts of money laundering amounting to some US$248 million said to have been siphoned from 1MDB.
The decision to grant Riza a DNAA has been criticised by the public following a back and forth between the MACC and former AG Tan Sri Tommy Thomas over who had given the green light to grant the discharge.
To note, the final decision to grant the discharge was made under the stewardship of the current AG Tan Sri Idrus Harun, who had said the settlement had been agreed in principle by his predecessor Thomas.
These claims have been repeatedly denied by Thomas, who was appointed AG by the former Pakatan Harapan coalition, with many also calling on former Federal Court judge and appointed Senior DPP Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram to justify how the agreement was made between the two parties.
The statement issued today was signed by by former Malaysian Bar presidents Zainur Zakaria, Datuk Kuthubul Zaman, Yeo Yang Poh, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Ragunath Kesavan, Lim Chee Wee, Christopher Leong, and Steven Thiru.
Also in their statement today, the group pointed out how the supposed settlement amount agreed between Riza Aziz and the current government was similar to the amount agreed between the former and the US Department of Justice.
“Thus, the seized assets are destined to be returned in due course to Malaysia, without any need for an agreement with Riza Aziz.
“This has called into question the efficacy of or legitimacy for the agreement with Riza Aziz. It appears to be superfluous, as nothing substantively new has been offered or brought to the table,” the statement read.
The group of lawyers also questioned the AGC’s reasoning for accepting a settlement amounting to only US$108 million, which represents only 43 per cent of the total amount of funds he is said to have laundered within the five charges brought against Riza Aziz.
In demanding answers from the AG, the group also reminded him that as the public prosecutor, he is accountable for the exercise of the constitutional power and discretion to discontinue the prosecution, adding how the AG is an office of public trust.
“It is only in dictatorial, totalitarian or authoritarian regimes that the exercise of such discretion and power is exempted from public scrutiny,” they said.
“The decision of the AG must, therefore, be supported by valid, rational, and cogent reasons. The media release by the AG does not provide such reasons, and it does not therefore satisfy the requirements of accountability.
“The agreement thus far revealed is simplistic. A question that begs an answer is whether there is more to the agreement than what has been disclosed.
“There is a perception that there may be more. It is therefore imperative, in the interest of maintaining public confidence, that clear, rational and cogent reasons be promptly provided,” read the statement.
The group added that a coherent and worthy explanation is owed to the public, to counter any perception that people can buy themselves out of any prosecution without penal accountability for a serious criminal offence.