Lack of will, weak laws, prevent probe into Zahid’s wealth

EXTRAORDINARY wealth owned by a public official should be enough grounds for investigations into the person, lawyers and an anti-corruption lobby group said today after the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief said there was no basis to probe a claim about the deputy prime minister’s wealth.

Prominent lawyer and activist Ambiga Sreenevasan said MACC could only ascertain the legitimacy of a person’s funds through an investigation.

“Any sign of extraordinary wealth particularly when it concerns people in public office is enough of a basis to investigate.

“Unfortunately Dzulkifli Ahmad has shown that he is afraid to investigate people at the top,” she said, referring to the MACC chief commissioner.

“The lack of interest in pursuing what the whole nation can see as theft and corruption in so many scandals that involve people at the top, is disgraceful,” she said when asked to respond to Dzulkifli’s statement.

The MACC chief had said the agency would only investigate a person’s wealth if there was basis to suspect that it was obtained through corruption and abuse of power.

The amount of money a person had was not basis for a corruption probe he added, when responding to whether the agency would probe Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s alleged RM230 million while he was Umno Youth chief, as claimed by Pakatan Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

Dzulkifli, however, was bound by Section 36 of the MACC Act, which does not make possessing unusual or unexplained wealth an offence.

This was why Malaysia urgently needed an asset declaration law and framework to require all politicians to declare their assets, said Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) executive director Cynthia Gabriel.

“While Section 36 empowers MACC to obtain information in relation to any property held or acquired by an individual, their powers are limited as it has to be in connection with an offence provided for under the MACC Act,” she said.

“Because there is no framework and because of the limitation in Section 36, Dzulkifli’s response is such that there is insufficient grounds to open an investigation against Zahid.

“We are recommending that amendments are made and we have been advocating this with the Bar Council,” Gabriel said, adding that C4 has urged Putrajaya to address the matter.

“There is a political game going around now where the opposition is asking cabinet ministers to declare their wealth, and vice versa.

“We are urging that a law be put in place as there should be no questions and issues that arise when investigating the wealth of public officials,” she told The Malaysian Insight.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said a probe was warranted if a person amassed an unusual amount of wealth that was beyond his earnings.

“It should be checked whether Zahid has the RM230 million or not and where did the money come from.

Paulsen said while MACC had a tough job, the agency appeared hesitant to probe high-level ministers.

“We agree with Dzulziklfi that there is not enough evidence. But at the same time he is being disingenuous because there are double standards when it comes to certain individuals.

“If they are truly independent they should ensure that the ministers don’t abuse their power,” he said.

While MACC has been actively pursuing other cases involving alleged graft in Felda Investment Corporation and in some government agencies related to bauxite mining, Ambiga said that all the good work done was meaningless if MACC allows the “big fish” to continue looting the country.

“I long for the day when we have heads of institutions who are courageous and honest enough to pursue even Prime Minister Najib Razak if necessary.

“Instead we see ministers who are prepared to compromise on the law and common sense. At the very least they should publicly declare their assets,” she said. – August 12, 2017.

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