KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration must not take lightly the perceived democratic "deficit" following recent decisions by the prosecution to discontinue Riza Aziz and Tan Sri Musa Aman's court cases, Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan said.
In a recent interview with Malay Mail, Shahril acknowledges that the public backlash against the recent decisions has the potential to paint the PN administration, of which Umno is a part of, in a bad light.
"Notwithstanding the merits or mitigating factors of specific cases, for example the ICAC investigation with Musa Aman, I'm not under any illusion that on the face of it, it doesn't help our image vis-à-vis the perception of democratic deficit,’’ he said, referring to the Independent Commission Against Corruption of Hong Kong.
"There was a time Umno dismissed the same concerns as urbanite or liberal, as if those were pejoratives to be ignored in some grander scheme. I don't want the new setup of which Umno is a part to revert to that,’’ he said, referring to Umno’s position within the PN administration.
"Of course, as a matter of fairness, I also hope the public considers the specific circumstances of each case and with regard to charges being dropped, accord the same standards to curious decisions made during the PH administration too,'' he added.
This was a reference to the High Court in Penang, which acquitted former finance minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon’s corruption charges, over the purchase of a bungalow below the market value, while Lim was then Penang chief minister.
Former Sabah chief minister Musa was granted an acquittal by the High Court last week after the prosecution made a startling announcement that it was dropping all 46 charges due to various reasons, including its failure to obtain key banking documents and the unavailability of several witnesses, some whom have since died.
Musa’s lawyer, Amer Hamzah Arshad on June 9, had claimed that the corruption charges brought in November 2018 against the former Sabah chief minister was a form of political persecution, due to its timing and due to local and international corruption investigators having cleared Musa of wrongdoing in the past.
Amer cited the investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and ICAC between 2008 and 2011, which had cleared his client of wrongdoing. He had also argued that the funds mentioned in the 46 charges were political donations and not linked to any projects in Sabah or logging concessions.
In a statement released on June 9 as well, Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun stated that his office had withdrawn the charges as the unavailability of documents from Hong Kong-based banks and some witnesses meant that proceeding with a trial would be untenable.
Both Amer Hamzah and Idrus had also cited former attorney general Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail's past decision not to pursue the charges against Musa during his tenure.
Meanwhile, Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, the stepson of former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal over his five counts of money-laundering some US$248 million (RM1.07 billion) alleged to have been siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) after he agreed to pay several million ringgit to the Malaysian government.
On the same day, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was not involved with the controversial decision, insisting it was achieved by the prosecutors and the accused through the latter’s representation to the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Both court decisions were lambasted by Pakatan Harapan (PH), which said it would reflect negatively on the Muhyiddin administration, while Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) said this may reverse the country’s recent progress on the world Corruption Perception Index.
Yesterday, the High Court decided that former Felda chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad must defend himself on nine counts of corruption involving RM3 million.
However, the former Negri Sembilan mentri besar was acquitted and discharged of the sole criminal breach of trust charge against him as the court concluded that the prosecution had not shown adequate evidence to corroborate the case.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Shahril also warned that the PN government should not be embroiled in the perception that it is caught in a trend of a democratic “deficit”.
In order to achieve this, Shahril said it must maintain matters such as press freedom and press coverage for Opposition members, which he lauded as among the democratic reforms that were achieved under the Pakatan Harapan administration.
“To be fair to Pakatan, on balance, of course as an Umno person and as a Malaysian who has Umno persuasions, I think we would do a better job but there are certain things that Pakatan did that were laudable,” he suggested.
“I think the democratisation of space in society was real. I had tweeted before this that I had no problems to be invited on TV, I had no problems going into universities. These are things that in the past were not synonymous with Umno and I like that to change.”
In addition, Shahril also stated that the PN administration should table the Prihatin supplementary budget — consisting of the numerous stimulus package announced by Putrajaya to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus disease — in the coming parliamentary sitting to show its accountability.
Putrajaya previously said it would undertake an “unprecedented” move to amend existing Acts and introduce new Bills to better suit the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic currently faced by the country during the July sitting.