August 9, 2010
Legal Immunity: No One is Above or Below the Law (Apologies to Richard M. Nixon)
by Josh Hongfirstname.lastname@example.org
For years, I had to endure the ignorant insistence by Malaysians who argue that whoever is conferred a Tunship by the Agong, would enjoy legal immunity.
He is not above the Law
This gave rise to rumors that Mahathir Mohamad was in haste to secure this title in order to protect himself from legal actions over all the misdeeds committed during his premiership. Others maintained that once Samy Vellu was made a Tun, he too would be beyond the long arm of the law.
Not true. According to the Supreme Rulers website, while Tunship does accord the recipient with the privilege to use the VIP room at the KL International Airport, it says practically nothing about legal immunity.
Following the constitutional amendment in 1993 and we dont have to thank Mahathir for that it is now possible to bring proceedings against even the Agong or Sultan through special provisions and in the Special Court. Thus granting a Tun legal immunity would only imply that the recipient is above the royal rulers.
Many were still not convinced. But with the prosecution of Ling Liong Sik over the Port Klang Free Zone scandal, the myth is finally shattered. The next question: is Najib Abdul Razak trying to prove to the public that his government is now serious about fighting corruption root and branch?
If anything, the recent appearance of Ling in court in Putrajaya to face charges of cheating the government by misleading the cabinet on the land acquisition in Port Klang only reminds me of February 2004. In that month, Kasitah Gaddam became the first cabinet minister to be charged in court with corrupt practices and cheating.
Kasitahs arraignment came just two! days af ter Eric Chia, the former managing director of the now discredited Perwaja Steel Sdn Bhd, was brought to court over criminal breach of trust involving more than RM76 million.
These two high-profile prosecutions were giving the public high hopes that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would eventually have a clean break with Mahathirs corrupt rule and that more big fish would be nabbed.
One month later, Abdullah went to the country, with the mainstream Chinese media portraying him as Mr Clean and a modern version of Justice Pao. He was rewarded with a huge victory that only made Mahathir quietly angry and jealous.
The rest is history. Not only that the much hyped-up anti-graft war under Abdullah ended as a flop with no more big guns under arrest, both Kasitah and Chia were also subsequently acquitted. Before he stepped down as prime minister, Abdullah could only lament that rooting out corruption was an uphill battle.
Of course it was. To eliminate Malaysias endemic culture of patronage, Abdullah ought to have explained in full how his son Kamaluddin had secured the position of a leading shareholder of Scomi Group, whose share price shot up by nearly 600 percent just a few months before Abdullah was scheduled to take over from Mahathir as prime minister.
Abdullahs mentor-turned-nemesis, Mahathir, would in the following years go around the country alleging that Scomi had bagged RM1 billion worth of government contracts since 2004, turning Kamaluddin into an overnight multi-millionaire.
Mr. Clean Inc
We must also not forget that Khairy Jamaluddins meteoric rise to become the nations most powerful young man took place during Abdullahs tenure! . By 200 6, Khairy the son-in-law too had made a fortune with the merger between ECM Libra Capital Bhd and the government-linked Avenue Capital Resources Bhd. And I do wonder if Kamaluddin and Khairy were both given discounts on their posh houses.
Father in high places
Strange, isnt it? It would seem that most of the brightest and the shrewdest in Malaysias business circle happen to have a father in high places. Mahathir reiterated time and again that his sons were successful businessmen in their own right, while Ling argued that Ling Hee Leong became a multi-billionaire by the age of 30 because his son was diligent and clever.
And I laughed my head off when Abdullah repeatedly said that both Kamaluddin and Khairy had never used his name for business purposes. The election results in 2008 proved that it was a defence in futility.
With history in mind, one can be forgiven for thinking that Lings sudden fall from grace is merely part of a sandiwara (drama) by Najib to shore up his support ahead of the 13th general election.
As Winston Churchill once famously said, in time of war, when truth is so precious, she must be attended to by a bodyguard of lies. I suppose Najib is now badly in need of a better bodyguard.
Why? Because having been fooled by Abdullah in 2004, people were so furious that they punished him with the so-called political tsunami four years later. Far smarter than his immediate predecessor, Najib would not be so nave to think he could regain two-thirds majority in Parliament simply by putting Ling in the dock, would he? He knows he has to do much better than that. Or perhaps Lings case is just a warning shot.
Back in 2003, an Austrian businessman by the name of Franz Christoph Heldwein came to Malaysia in an attempt to recover the losses incurred from business deals between him and Ling. What raised eyebrows was that a meeting was arranged by Soh Chee Wen, then Lings close associate who is now one of Anwar Ibrahims wise men, at! the Tra nsport Ministry. It was a sheer abuse of power and Ling escaped unscathed.
If Ling was unblemished then, why now?
Two weeks ago, PJ Utara MP Tony Pua revealed that Muhyiddin Yassin, when agriculture minister, signed an endorsement letter for a government tuna port venture worth RM240 million in 2006. The bonds later defaulted, resulting in possible multiple lawsuits.
While Muhyiddin continues to maintain his elegant silence, all is not well between him and Najib, judging from recent developments in UMNO.
It is widely speculated that the politically insatiable deputy prime minister, who so brilliantly engineered the downfall of Abdullah in partnership with Mahathir, is now teamed up with the latter and also the hawks in the party such as Ibrahim Ali and Ahmad Ismail to ensure Najib becomes the shortest-lived prime minister.
So is Lings prosecution meant to be a stern warning by Najib to fidgety challengers in his own backyard?
In the cruel world of UMNO infighting, Ling is no sacrificial lamb but has been a vital partner in crime. No longer needed, he is now expendable, to the detriment of Chua Soi Lek , a faithful protg of Ling once caught in video with his pants down.
That the MCA leadership had been kept in the dark over the major move by the AGs Chambers yesterday only indicates that BN parties have lost their relevance, and it may not be too long before the subtle tussle between the rival camps in UMNO becomes visible to all.
But I am certain the public will not be satisfied with the netting of a rotten fish head; Malaysians want to see really big fish hauled up, and the more the merrier.
A swallow does not a summer make. Lets just sit back and watch as the sandiwara unfolds. Sorry Tun Ling, you aint worth my tears.
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and interna! tional p olitics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.
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