Allegations against Azam must be investigated, say lawyers, think tank, lawmakers

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Panel cannot clear anyone; only investigators/AG can make that decision.

There must be further investigation into allegations that Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Azam Baki failed to declare ownership of corporate shares, despite the MACC anti-corruption advisory board clearing him of any wrongdoing, lawyers said.

“Actually, the panel cannot clear anyone. Only the investigators/AG can make that decision,” Anti-corruption activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan tweeted, referring to the attorney-general.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla said the board’s opinion is not final, because it is not legally binding in a criminal investigation.

Haniff pointed out that the board chairman, Abu Zahar Ujang, had said the panel’s findings will be forwarded to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

“Therefore, in line with the law, Ismail should then instruct attorney-general Idrus Harun to set up a three-member special investigation commission to look into the allegations,” Haniff said.

Azhar Mahfof/The Star

“The AG, the inspector-general of police, and the MACC advisory board must nominate the members of the investigation commission.

“The commission must be given six weeks to investigate and then forward its findings to the AG.”

Haniff said it is important the prime minister requests that Idrus act firmly and swiftly in setting up the commission to convince the people that the position of the complainant is taken into account and adherence to the rule of law.

He said if Azam is innocent, he has the right to clear his name through a transparent and correct process, which is also in line with the rule of law.

Haniff said there are many questions that needed to be answered through the investigation, including the legality of trading shares in the name of a proxy, the source of funds used by Azam’s sibling to purchase the shares, and why Azam owned the shares for a period of time, among others.

He said the questions are not intended to cast negative aspersions towards Azam but instead it is needed for a thorough investigation to be carried out in line with the rule of the law.

Yesterday, think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) said in a statement that the board did a half-baked job after it freed Azam from the allegation based on his own explanation.

“We are concerned with the fact that the decision made to absolve the chief commissioner is based on a single meeting without a thorough investigation.

“In our view, if such a conclusion is based only on the explanation of Azam, then the board has not properly carried out its duties. This is not an exemplary move by an organisation that is the primary body tasked to oversee the anti-graft body.”

Ideas urged the board to transparently elaborate the process via which it reached the conclusion.

It is important for the agency to disclose which government code of conduct or policy it relied on in clearing Azam of any wrongdoing, it added.

“More importantly, the board should explain to the public whether Azam has satisfied the criteria on asset declaration based on the government circular that requires civil servants to declare their assets.”

There are rules governing corporate share ownership by civil servants – namely the Public Officers Regulations Act (Conduct and Discipline) 1993, which states that civil servants, including top officials, can hold corporate shares, but must declare their assets every five years.

There is also Service Circular Number 3/2002 – Ownership and Declaration of Assets by Public Officials, which further elaborates on section 10 of the above Act.

It requires all public officers to declare in writing all properties owned by them, their husband or wife or children or held by any person on their behalf or on behalf of their wife or husband or children to their respective head of department.

The circular also states that a public officer is prevented from owning more than RM100,000 worth of shares in any company.

Meanwhile, two members of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSC) on Agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department said an internal board of the MACC is “not meant as a tool” to clear Azam over allegations of his corporate share ownership, and an investigation by the relevant parliamentary select committee is still necessary.

“We are of the view that the board’s own investigation does not oust the jurisdiction of the PSC to conduct its own investigation and to make recommendations to Parliament to amend the laws accordingly, if necessary.

“Being the leader of the body, which upholds integrity in the nation by dealing with corruption, it is essential that the MACC commissioner comes clean to the public, and what better way than to answer to the PSC.

“The transcript of the investigation will be made available to the public, and the public can then decide whether Azam himself is fit for the job as the No. 1 corruption buster,” Khoo Poay Tiong, the Kota Melaka MP and Chan Foong Hin, the Kota Kinabalu MP, said in a joint statement.

The duo said Azam was wrong in saying he was not answerable to anyone other than the board, as the MACC was created by an Act of law by Parliament.

“He may claim that he is not answerable to anyone else, but we members of Parliament as lawmakers have the powers to legislate accordingly. We can amend the act to tighten provisions and deal with any legal loopholes, if any, for the benefit of the people.”

They added that the episode had caused an erosion of the public’s trust in MACC, and its credibility as an independent body to fight corruption will be in doubt.

“Azam noted that it was his brother that bought the shares as the shares were transferred to the brother. Why didn’t the brother just buy the shares using his own account in the first place? Why is there a need for the brother to buy the shares using Azam’s trading account first? The general public does not buy Azam’s explanation as it stands. All these needs answering by Azam,” the two MPs said.

They also questioned whether Azam had satisfied the criteria on asset declaration based on the government circular requiring civil servants to declare their assets and whether he had come into any potential conflict of interest regarding investigations into companies that he was a shareholder in.

“As such, we repeat our call that the PSC on Agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department should urgently, and without any further delay, call for a meeting to investigate the matter and Azam be called in as soon as possible to give evidence to the PSC so as to limit the damage to MACC.”