When ‘Datuk’ and ‘Datuk Seri’ title holders land in court

The accused, Liow Soon Hee, being led by policemen at the Ampang Jaya Magistrates Court today afternoon. ― Picture by Razak Ghazali
The accused, Liow Soon Hee, being led by policemen at the Ampang Jaya Magistrates Court today afternoon. ― Picture by Razak Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 ― It used to be a mark of distinction for an individual to be conferred “Datuk” or “Datuk Seri” honorary titles by the state in recognition of services or contributions to society.

However, some decorated individuals have landed in court for criminal offences of late, so much so that the Council of Federal Datuks Malaysia had in March suggested the automatic revocation of federal and state awards for their peers who have tarnished their collective reputation.

The council reiterated its call late last month following the case of Liow Soon Hee, who had been dubbed a “Datuk Seri” though it is unclear which authority had conferred the title on him.

The 29-year-old was charged last Friday with three counts of hurting three People Volunteer Corps (Rela) members on October 27 and using criminal force to stop a public servant from discharging his duty. He was charged yesterday with two counts of taking drugs separately in February 2014 and on October 30.

Current legislation does not provide for the automatic removal of such honorary titles, but there have been instances where such titles were withdrawn.

For example in October 2015, the Selangor Sultan withdrew the "Datuk Seri" title from Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo, after the Federal Court maintained a guilty verdict and one-year jail sentence on the former Selangor mentri besar who was convicted of abusing his position to buy land and a bungalow worth millions of ringgit below market price.

Below is a selection of recent convictions involving Malaysians holding the “Datuk” or “Datuk Seri” titles:

August 28, 2017: Unapproved advertisement

In the latest court case, cosmetics tycoon Datuk Seri Dr Hasmiza Othman, 46, was fined RM4,800 in default of five months' jail after pleading guilty to advertising her product during a live TV3 interview without the Medicine Advertisement Board's approval.

She paid the fine for the offence committed in July 2016. She was charged under the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act's Section 4B, which is punishable by a maximum two-year jail term or fine or both.

Prior to that, the celebrity entrepreneur better known as Datuk Seri Vida paid a RM500 fine after pleading guilty in March to a failure to submit her 2011 income tax return forms and promised to produce it within a month.

In the same month, she paid the full amount of over RM4.2 million in Goods and Service Tax (GST) owed to the government, which led to the withdrawal of 16 charges that are each punishable by a maximum RM50,000 fine or maximum three-year jail term or both.

She also paid a RM80,000 fine last December, after pleading guilty to 16 charges of failing to submit statements from April 2015 to July 2016 on the GST amount owed.

July 24, 2017: Assault

Businessman Datuk Seri Chin Kok Wah, 50, was fined RM1,000 after pleading guilty to the offence of voluntarily causing hurt to a luxury condominium's 44-year-old security guard T. Ramaraj.

Chin, who paid the fine, was said to have assaulted the security guard at the Penang condominium he was living in after removing a tyre clamp on his car with a steel cutter.

The offence under the Penal Code's Section 323 is punishable by a maximum one-year jail term or a maximum RM2,000 fine or both.

February 20, 2017: Animal cruelty

Former Julau MP Datuk Sng Chee Hua, 70, on February 20 pleaded guilty and was fined RM500 in default of one week's jail for animal cruelty through his participation in an illegal cockfight.

Sng and 24 others paid the fine for the the offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance 1962's Section 3(1), said to have been committed in a warehouse in Kota Samarahan, Sarawak. The penalty is a maximum three months' jail or a maximum RM500 fine.

The businessman was reportedly one of the 320 men arrested by police during a raid at the cockfighting pit, with items seized including roosters, gambling chips and cash.

January 30, 2015: Intimidation

Businessman Datuk Ahmad Ramzi Mohamad Zubir, 43, was sentenced by the Court of Appeal to three months' jail for sending threats in text messages to three former state assemblymen for Barisan Nasional, as well as defaming a former senior aide of the Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said by using the latter's mobile phone number to send a threatening text message.

Ahmad Ramzi, who was also former Terengganu mentri besar's Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh's ex-political secretary, was charged with committing the offences in 2009 under the Penal Code's Sections 505 and 507.

December 3, 2012: Money-laundering

Datuk Wong Sen Chiew, 56, was sentenced to one-day jail and a RM145,000 fine after pleading guilty to misleading the public in 2005 to invest in a bird's nest cultivation scheme with promises of high returns.

He also pleaded guilty to 28 counts of money-laundering RM975,580 during the December 2008-October 2009 period, where he used the money to buy shares, cash in cheques and pay commissions.

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