KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 ― The High Court here today allowed Selangor lawmaker Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) supreme council member Muhammad Zahid Md Arip to proceed with their separate legal challenges against the classification of the Auditor-General's report on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as an official secret.
Azmin's lawyer, Tommy Thomas, confirmed that the High Court has granted his client leave to continue with the lawsuit.
“Of course the Attorney-General objected, but he (Azmin) got leave and the matter is now fixed for 15th February,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted today, adding that the next date is for case management.
As for Muhammad Zahid's application that was heard after Azmin's bid, the same judge Datuk Hanipah Farikullah also granted leave.
This was confirmed by his lawyer, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla.
“Muhammad Zahid as any rightful member of society is very happy with the decision. So we will proceed further and the court has fixed February 15 for further case management,” he told Malay Mail Online.
He said he had appeared with Ilyani Noor Khuszairy for his client, while senior federal counsels Suzana Atan and Shamsul Bolhassan had appeared for the Attorney-General's Chambers in both Azmin and Muhammad Zahid's case.
Azmin’s office said in a statement later that the Selangor Mentri Besar felt he was duty-bound to ensure public access to the Auditor-General’s report in the interest of taxpayers and Malaysian citizens.
“This decision represents a victory for the public interest and transparency,” it said.
Azmin, who is both Selangor Mentri Besar and PKR deputy president, previously confirmed that he was filing the legal challenge in his capacity as Gombak MP, saying he has a duty to protect Malaysian taxpayers' interests by ensuring the declassification of the Auditor-General's report.
In his application for judicial review filed last August 15, Azmin named Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang and the government of Malaysia as the respondents.
Azmin sought for three court orders, including a declaration that the prime minister had “acted in conflict of interest” in issuing a certificate under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to direct Ambrin to classify the federal audit report on 1MDB as an “official secret”.
Besides asking the court to declare that Ambrin’s classification of the report as “official secret” was unlawful and ultra vires — or beyond the Federal Constitution, the OSA and the Audit Act — Azmin also sought for the court to compel those sued to declassify the report and release it to the public.
In his lawsuit, Azmin claimed that the government’s decision to classify the 1MDB report was unconstitutional as it allegedly breached the Federal Constitution’s Article 107, which requires the Auditor-General to submit his audit reports to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for presentation in Parliament.
Among other things listed in court documents, he also claimed that the Auditor-General does not have the authority to classify the report as an official secret as he is allegedly not classified as a “public officer” under the OSA.
He said that having the report released to the public would not cause external interruption to Parliament’s bipartisan Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) inquiry on 1MDB as the latter had already concluded the proceedings and submitted its report on the state-owned firm to Parliament.
He also claimed that the there was no need for the continued secrecy of the Auditor-General’s report as it is allegedly already available in the public domain on whistleblower site Sarawak Report.
Muhammad Zahid, who was then both Malay rights group Perkasa’s supreme council member and Umno member, had last August 5 filed a similar lawsuit against the same three respondents to seek the report’s declassification, as he felt “cheated” with the move to classify it under the OSA.
Ambrin’s report was submitted to the PAC and was initially expected to be classified only until the committee tabled its report on 1MDB in Parliament, but the auditor-general subsequently confirmed that it would remain an official secret despite the tabling of PAC’s report last April.
* An earlier version of this article misidentified Muhammad Zahid Md Arip's position as a Perkasa member and has since been corrected. We regret any inconvenience caused.