High-handed: MACC chief’s outright dismissal without any inquiry of two lawyers’ complaint over their arrest

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Azam Baki’s recent response on the disclosure by two lawyers that they were detained, intimidated and harassed in the discharge of their duties, interfering with the public’s right to legal representation.

This was followed by a statement by the MACC repeating Azam’s denials.

Azam claimed that lawyer Lai Chee Hoe is being investigated for “embezzlement” and abuse of power for his role as the former chairman of the joint management committee, which was the subject of its investigation.

First, it is unacceptable for Azam Baki to outright deny the lawyers’ complaints before even making any enquiry into their allegations. This suggests that the MACC is not interested in finding out the truth or the facts of the matter. This attitude is reminiscent of the Teoh Beng Hock case. It is blatantly contrary to good governance for the head of an enforcement body to simply dismiss public complaints without properly enquiring into it. Every public complaint must be fairly and impartially looked into.

Second, lawyer Lai Chee Hoe was never the chairman nor a member of the said joint management committee as falsely claimed by Azam Baki in his response yesterday. Lai was merely acting as the lawyer for the committee at the material time. In his haste to deny wrongdoing on the part of the MACC, the chief commissioner totally failed to even ascertain the facts of the case. This throws into doubt the entirety of the chief commissioner’s denial of wrongdoing by the MACC in this case.

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Third, if the MACC claims it is investigating the “embezzlement” of a joint management body’s funds, then why did the MACC officers demand that the lawyer withdraw from acting for his client? What has this to do with the purported “embezzlement” investigation? The explanation that it was a legitimate “embezzlement” investigation is thus far-fetched and ridiculous.

Fourth, when the lawyer was in custody, the questions asked and the statement recorded by the MACC had nothing to do with any “embezzlement” investigation. Instead, the MACC asked extensive questions about the legal case in which the lawyers were involved, blatantly contrary to lawyer-client privilege, which is protected under Malaysian law. The MACC cannot now deny this, as the statement recorded from the lawyers is a public document which can be disclosed in due course.

Fifth, Azam and the MACC completely failed to explain why the other lawyer, Irwin Lo, was asked to disclose documents protected by lawyer-client privilege by MACC officers regarding the case he was handling for the joint management committee. This unlawful demand by the MACC officers is proven by the WhatsApp communication by the MACC officer to the lawyer, which was disclosed at the press conference. That in the face of this evidence the MACC continues its denials is brazen and astonishing.

Sixth, LFL is baffled that the MACC is relying upon Section 31 of the MACC Act 2009 to justify its actions on Lai Chee Hoe and Irwin Lo. Section 31 merely lays out the MACC’s powers of search and seizure. In no way does Section 31 authorise contravening lawyer-client privilege. For the MACC to rely upon Section 31 is desperate and irrelevant.

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To prevent the MACC from further misleading, LFL will state it very clearly. It is a cardinal and basic principle of law that communications between an advocate and his client are privileged and cannot be disclosed by him to any other parties, even to enforcement agencies. This principle is contained in Section 126 of the Evidence Act 1950 and has been upheld by the courts. Nothing in Section 31 of the MACC Act allows the MACC to disregard lawyer-client privilege.

The big question remains: why did the MACC conduct itself in this unjustifiable manner in this case, breaching the public’s sacrosanct right to legal representation? What lies behind all this?

Despite such a serious allegation levelled against MACC, it is obvious here that the MACC chief has utterly failed to conduct a proper inquiry and get the facts of the complaint ascertained before issuing a response.

As such, LFL demands that the federal government step in and ensure that a proper inquiry is made regarding these allegations against the MACC.

LFL further demands the government assure members of the public that harassment and intimidation of lawyers for carrying out their duties for their clients will not be tolerated and will be immediately halted.

It must be ensured that the public are allowed to consult and be represented by any lawyer of their choice.

The intimidation and harassment of lawyers in the discharge of their duties is a contravention of this right and will lead to the compromise and regression of the justice system as a whole.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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