Beng Hock's death not suicide, caused by ‘unknown’ persons and MACC, court rules

Teoh Shuw Hoi, mother of Teoh Beng Hock, walks towards the courtroom while holding a portrait of her son in this file picture. The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled today that Teoh’s 2009 death was caused by the act of 'persons or persons unknown'. — AFP pic
Teoh Shuw Hoi, mother of Teoh Beng Hock, walks towards the courtroom while holding a portrait of her son in this file picture. The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled today that Teoh’s 2009 death was caused by the act of 'persons or persons unknown'. — AFP pic

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 5 — The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled today that former DAP political aide Teoh Beng Hock’s 2009 death was caused by the act of “person or persons unknown”, including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officers who had questioned him overnight before he was found dead.

The appellate court set aside the two earlier decisions, with all three judges on the panel substituting it with their verdict, saying:

“The death of Teoh Beng Hock was caused by multiple injuries from a fall from the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam as a result of or which was accelerated by an unlawful act or acts of person or persons unknown, inclusive of MACC officers who were involved in the arrest and investigation of the deceased.”

Justice Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said the magistrate in the Coroner’s Court and the High Court judge had erred by respectively giving an open verdict and upholding the verdict, pointing out that they had applied the stricter test of beyond reasonable doubt - used in criminal cases.

“We are of the view that the correct verdict to be returned in the inquest is caused by person or persons unknown,” said Mah, the first judge to read out his judgement.

He ruled out the two other possible verdicts of suicide and death by misadventure or accidental death.

When discounting these two possibilities, Mah cited the appellate court panel's March site visit and study of the window from where Teoh fell, as well as a pathologist's report, among other things.

The Court of Appeal was reviewing the decision by the Coroner’s Court in 2011, which had delivered an open verdict, ruling that Teoh’s death was not a homicide or a suicide.

The Court of Appeal panel is chaired by Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and includes Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer.

The two judges similarly ruled that the correct test in an inquest to determine the cause of death is the standard of “balance of probabilities” ― used in civil cases.

Mohamad Ariff, who chaired today's panel, also said that the failure of the judges in the two lower courts to “evaluate the conduct of the MACC officers concerned and the evidence of the conduct to allegedly 'cover up'“ as argued by Teoh's family “leads to a serious miscarriage of justice”.

Hamid Sultan said the conduct of the MACC officers involved had “breached constitutional safeguards, rule of law and human rights value”.

In a strongly-worded statement, he said the MACC cannot “disclaim liability” when its officers had taken Teoh into custody and engaged in “oppressive conduct which resulted in his death”.

Hamid Sultan said the police and Attorney-General's Chambers would have prosecuted “the oppressors” in “ordinary circumstances”, but the failure to do so in Teoh's case had raised a public outcry and had breached Articles 5(1) and 8(1) of the constitution.

The Teoh family’s lawyer Gobind Singh Deo confirmed to reporters that today’s decision is final and cannot be appealed at the Federal Court as the inquest had originated at the Coroner’s Court and was presided over by a magistrate.

Government lawyer DPP Mohamad Abazafree Mohd Abbas and his colleague DPP Nadia Hanim Mohd Tajuddin had previously argued that coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas had acted correctly by delivering an open verdict on January 5, 2011.

At the end of the appeal hearing in May this year, Gobind reiterated his argument that the coroner ― by applying a lighter standard of proof ― would have been able to return a verdict of “death by homicide” or that MACC officers were “criminally concerned” in Teoh’s death.

On February 10, 2012, Teoh Meng Kee — Beng Hock’s elder brother ― filed an application at the Court of Appeal to review the open verdict delivered by the Coroner’s Court in 2011, after his application was rejected by the High Court on December 1, 2011.

Beng Hock’s family have been in and out of the courtrooms over the past five years, after the 30-year-old groom-to-be was found sprawled in a pool of his own blood on the fifth-floor landing of the Plaza Masalam building in Shah Alam in the early afternoon of July 16, 2009, days before his wedding.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into Beng Hock’s death, chaired by now-retired Federal Court judge Tan Sri James Foong Cheng Yuen, later ruled on July 21, 2011 that it was a suicide.

In a separate case filed on October 30, 2012, four of Beng Hock’s family members — his father Teoh Leong Hwee, his mother Teng Shuw Hoi, his then fiancee Soh Cher Wei and his son Teoh Er Jia — are seeking damages for sadness, loss of dependency and negligence on the part of the MACC and 13 other defendants in his death.

The civil suit for negligence has been stayed pending today’s outcome at the Court of Appeal.

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