Lawyer: MACC risks contempt of court with report against whistleblower

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The MACC may be cited for contempt of court over its recent police report against investigative journalist Lalitha Kunaratnam, her lawyer contended.

Manjeet Singh Dhillon claimed this is because the subject matter of the report is part of an ongoing civil court action between his client and Azam Baki, the antigraft agency’s chief commissioner.

Two days ago, at the Sentul district police station, an MACC officer lodged the police report over Lalitha allegedly lying to court via her statement of defence, in relation to her being a researcher with the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center).

The statement of defence was in relation to Azam’s defamation suit against the whistleblower.

Under Malaysian law, a party in a civil suit may apply to initiate committal proceedings against another party who is alleged to have disrespected the judiciary, such as via remarks or any other acts that touched upon the ongoing legal action.

If a committal bid is successful, the court may impose penalties such as fine or jail time upon the contemnor (person found to have committed contempt of court).

In a media statement issued today, Manjeet contended that if the MACC had indeed lodged the police report, then the report maker has “attempted to usurp the role of the anticipated judge in the anticipated trial and the anticipated evidence” (in Azam’s civil suit against Lalitha).

The lawyer said any such police report would amount to a “sheer act of arrogance by the MACC”.

“They (MACC) have to stop harassing Lalitha and let the judicial process take its natural course. The MACC and its officers should proceed cautiously and stay out of this matter, lest they fall foul of the contempt laws.

“The plaintiff, Azam Baki, is the head of MACC. Lalitha is an investigative journalist. He has his solicitors as has she. The respective lawyers will deal with all matters in court.

Shahrin Yahya/The Edge

“Neither the MACC nor the MACC officer who lodged the report are Azam Baki’s solicitors.

“The MACC does not have a right to comment on or usurp the powers of any trial judge or ventilate prematurely or preemptively on the likely evidence in the trial,” Manjeet said.

Employment with C4 Center

Lalitha, who is being sued for defamation by Azam over write-ups about his share ownership in public-listed companies, had put the C4 job description in her statement of defence against the suit.

However, MACC is disputing Lalitha’s claim, saying she was no longer an employee of C4 Center since December 2020.

The officer who lodged the report based the allegation on a statement made by C4 Center last month, where the non-government organisation said Lalitha “ceased being an employee with C4 Center since Dec 2020”.

Azam is suing Lalitha over the activist’s two articles, ‘Business Ties Among MACC Leadership: How Deep Does It Go? (Part 1)’ and ‘Business Ties Among MACC Leadership: How Deep Does It Go? (Part Two)’.

The articles were published by the Asia-based Independent News Service (INS) late last year.

Lalitha stated she was ready to fight Azam’s lawsuit and prove in court the contents of her online articles regarding the issue.

Multiple reports lodged

Two days after Azam filed the suit, an MACC officer reportedly lodged a police report (before the latest report) against the whistleblower, alleging she was involved in the publication of fake news related to Azam’s share ownership issue.

According to MalaysiaNow, MACC senior assistant commissioner Mohan Munusamy claimed Lalitha was factually incorrect and suggested MACC officers were involved in corruption just because they are involved in businesses.

Azam came under the spotlight over his ownership of 1,930,000 shares in Gets Global Berhad (previously KBES Berhad) on April 30, 2015 worth around RM772,000 at the time.

His shareholding in Gets Global Berhad went down to 1,029,500 as of March 31, 2016, worth around RM340,000 at the time.

He also held 2,156,000 warrants in Excel Force MSC Berhad in March 2016.

The share ownership in 2015 and 2016 raised questions on whether it was commensurate with his income as a public servant.

In a press conference on Jan 5, Azam did not dispute the ownership of the shares but claimed they were bought in his name by his younger brother. The shares have since been transferred to his brother.

Nearly a week later, on Jan 18, the Securities Commission (SC) announced it concluded its inquiry into the case and that it is unable to conclusively establish a breach under Section 25(4) of the Securities Industry (Central Depositories) Act 1991 (SICDA) had occurred.

However, following criticism, the SC clarified it found Azam had “control” over his own trading account and that it found no evidence of proxy trading. – Malaysiakini

Earlier reports:

Feb 10, Lalitha accused of lying over job status

Feb 4, Whistleblower ready to prove in court claims linked to Azam’s shareholding