The great Malaysian run-around

By Mariam Mokhtar

Malaysians heaved a collective groan when the Kuala Lumpur High Court threw out the subpoenas served on Prime Ninister Najib Tun Razak and the self-styled “First Lady”, Rosmah Mansor, to testify at Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II trial.

In scenes reminiscent of Sodomy I, Najib will be the second prime minister who has avoided taking the witness stand. The first was Dr Mahathir Mohamad who avoided giving testimony in Anwar’s 1998 trial.

The difference between the two trials is that in Sodomy II, both Najib and Rosmah had been placed on the prosecution witness list, unlike Mahathir in Sodomy I.

The degree of confusion that Malaysians have been subjected to by the trial judge, and the level of mistrust and loss of faith that Malaysians have for its public institutions is unparalleled.

One’s “periuk nasi” is a powerful and motivating factor. For some, integrity, self-respect, belief in the rule of law and equality for all, mean nothing. It is worse when those who have been placed in positions of trust are amoral, such as our judges.

Questions abound. Why were subpoenas issued in the first instance? Why does the judge now claim that the testimonies of this couple are irrelevant because they are not “material witnesses” in the trial?

These questions seem inconsequential when compared with the question of why this sham trial was allowed to proceed and why incompetent chemists were allowed to give evidence.

Anwar’s lawyer, Karpal Singh, said, “The trial judge did not even give reasons for his ruling, especially since he reserved his judgment for days.”

Perhaps when Najib said that he wanted to create “the best democracy in the world”, he meant it, but only for himself and his inner circle.

He and his cronies will be above the law. They need not testify or be made to account for their actions. Uppermost in their minds is the need to suppress evidence which may help others.

Any judgment will invariably be in their favour. Any judgment which goes against them, will ultimately be over-turned. We also learn that judges in the Malaysian judiciary are allowed to get away with plagiarism.

So whilst ordinary Malaysians are ruled by law, and are not at liberty to ignore a subpoena or a summons to appear in court, the Umnoputras are free to roam around like “binatang2 liar”.

The Apco link

That is what it means to live in the fast lane of the Umnoputra elite. Even those who give them patronage also benefit. Responsibility and accountability mean nothing. The rakyat are too meek to act. The paralytic state of our minds and actions are what Umno-BN thrives on.

In December 2010, Najib went all out to prevent Anwar presenting his evidence which would have exposed his close ties with Apco, a US-based firm with strong links to Israel.

Anwar said, “We have all the files, the documents and were ready to face any of their questions. But instead of giving me the chance to defend myself, the BN parliamentarians said they had enough ‘evidence’ to decide whether or not to suspend me.”

In a move which took Anwar and his lawyers by surprise, the Najib administration sprung a surprise in Parliament and authorised the Rights and Privileges Committee, to cancel Anwar’s defence.

They then solely relied on a letter from Apco and barred other witnesses from testifying that “1Malaysia” had been cooked up by Apco.

In the ensuing fracas, Anwar and three of his fellow parliamentarians who came to his defence, were slapped with six-month suspensions from Parliament.

Najib might believe he has escaped censure but the court of public opinion thinks differently. By avoiding giving evidence for Sodomy II, Najib can only have added to the speculation that he is guilty of involvement in the Saiful-Anwar probe.

Najib should note that former British premier Tony Blair was asked to appear at an inquest into the Iraq war while ex-president Bill Clinton had to deal with the Starr investigation, the Paula Jones lawsuit and then the ignominious Clinton-Lewinsky affair.

Both these heads of state came out untarnished. In fact, some claim that their popularities, which had been on the wane, improved after their performances during the court hearings.

Najib may think he has the last word in Malaysian affairs and Malaysia’s lop-sided justice. But will he fare just as well when the Scorpene trials take place in France? France can at least claim to be a country governed by the rule of law.

There are several routes Najib may take if he is served with a subpoena in a French court. He may choose to ignore it and he may be tried in absentia. He might even be found guilty and be issued with an international arrest warrant.

Quest for justice

Perhaps, Najib will take comfort in that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is still running free in the world and although he is not welcome in Europe, he is a regular visitor to Malaysia and is alleged to be Mahathir’s good friend.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is another who has managed to evade capture, despite an international arrest warrant on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Thus, the allegations of Rosmah’s intricate dealings in the Middle East might suddenly find credence. After the Jasmine revolution, Leila, the opulent wife of Tunisia’s ex-president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is known to be living a life of luxury, in exile in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Now is the time when Malaysians have to stand united and demand that our fight against injustice continues.

We need courage and determination as well as patience to overcome all the obstacles in our way.

A crooked judiciary is something that we can dispense with after the next general election. Will those who triumph guarantee us that?

The quest for justice is not just for Anwar but also for the others who are not among the great and good.

These are the ordinary people, including the marginalised, who have died at the hands of the police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) or just disappeared under unexplained circumstances.

Mariam Mokhtar is a local political commentator and a FMT columnist.

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