EXCLUSIVE Following recent revelations by former Court of Appeal judge KC Vohrah of questionable actions by ex-chief justice Eusoff Chin, the man who had first revealed judicial corruption in Malaysia feels quietly vindicated.
Syed Ahmad Idid Syed Abdullah Idid was the High Court judge who was forced to resign for writing an anonymous letter exposing the matter in 1996, which was sent to a select set of high officials.
Among its allegations, it revealed Eusoff had gone on a New Zealand holiday with VK Lingam, a senior lawyer who appeared before the then chief justice in court on a number of cases.
Pictures of the duo taken together with their families underscored their close ties.
It resulted in Syed Ahmad Idid being told to resign when the letter he sent mysteriously found its way into some government departments and then spread to the media.
Syed Ahmad Idid's immediate reaction to Malaysiakini's article on Vohrah was elation - that the former Court of Appeal judge had written on the matter and he was certain other judges could also tell of similar experiences.
Among other transgressions, the Ayer Molek case that Vohrah referred to was filed in the Special and Appellate Powers Division whereas it should have been in the Commercial Division.
Syed Ahmad Idid also recalled a similar incident as a Kuala Lumpur High Court judge with the Commercial Division from 1995 to 1996.
According to him, a case involving a sum of a quarter of a billion ringgit was correctly filed in the Commercial Division before him. But before it could be called in open court, the file was wrested away by Eusoff.
“That matter was given to another judge who now resides, and must be enjoying life, in Europe,” he quipped.
Appalled at corruption
Syed Ahmad Idid was a former assistant director with the Royal Customs and Excise Department before he left to read law in the Inner Temple London. He was legal director of a bank before being appointed a High Court judge in 1990.
In 1996, appalled at the corruption and dubious practices in the corridors of justice, he turned whistleblower.
He remembers that his anonymous complaint over misconduct in the judiciary, especially on the then lord president and CJ, Eusoff Chin ( right ), was sent to a few top government officers whose duties he hoped included enhancing the standards of performance in the government and protecting the integrity of the country.
Unfortunately someone in a department had disseminated it to the media, along with a ‘covering note’.
“The aim was to frame me. The then attorney-general (the late Mohtar Abdullah) - a reader of English fiction - described this as a ‘poison pen’ letter.”
Somehow the letter was traced back to him and he was given two options - to resign honourably or be detained, possibly under the Internal Security Act.
A senior official, representing the AG, had met him armed with the offer, revealed Syed Ahmad Idid.
He said Mohtar was seen as overly enthusiastic to kill the ‘poison pen’ letter writer rather than investigating the allegations made against Eusoff. “He went to the press as though he was out for revenge.”
Queried why he did not fight back, Syed Ahmad Idid said as a judge he could not join the political fray.
“I had no political party and so no political pull or push. The press jumped in and wrote all sorts of things against me.
“A reporter wrote I had escaped to London. In reality, I was eating ‘nasi lemak’ right here in Section 21, Petaling Jaya.
“Even a professor took advantage by writing about people who wrote poison-pen letters. So the lies mounted. But the newspapers which printed the lies paid dearly through their falling sales,” the former judge said.
Threat of imprisonment
Asked as to why he did not take legal action, Syed Ahmad Idid said he was threatened with imprisonment.
“I had a heart attack the previous year. Naturally I was fearful I could not survive the ordeal of a prison or even a lock-up stay. Also I had no savings to engage counsel and had no hope for the ‘justice that money can buy’.
“So you see my predicament. I made ‘doa’ and learnt that discretion is the better part of valour.”
Syed Ahmad Idid added he believed then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad relied a lot on his advisers and as Mohtar held the reins, the PM had no alternative but to believe what the AG told him.
“I did not contact the former AG or the former IGP. Both knew my complaints were not investigated. On the contrary, I, the complainant, was punished.
“Thankfully, I have genuine friends both in the government, the courts and also the private sector who support me a lot, (and) I am grateful. Naturally I wish they can get Umno to push for remedial action in my favour. However I guess Umno is busy with so many issues.”
Lingam was later implicated in a video showing him having a phone conversation with then Chief Judge of Malaya Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Halim in 2001 over the fixing of judges.
This eventually led to a royal commission of inquiry in 2008 to investigate the issue.
The five-member panel proposed action be taken on Lingam, Eusoff and four others including Mahathir.
However until today, no action has been taken against any of the six.
“After the Lingam inquiry, there should have been “korek, korek and korek” (dig, dig and dig) for more truths,” Syed Ahmad Idid sighed in dejection, playing on the now legendary Lingam’s “correct, correct, correct” quote that was caught on the video.
However in a manner of speaking, Syed Ahmad Idid had the last laugh. He received many calls and text messages congratulating him on being vindicated for the revelations he made more than a decade before the infamous video was made public.
He has also seen former lord president Salleh Abas and five other Supreme Court judges being compensated in 2008.
In 1988, following the Umno debacle in which the party was declared illegal by the court, Salleh and other Supreme Court judges were forced to resign.
Two decades later the government under Abdullah Ahmad Badawi decided the judges were hard done by, and granted compensation and returned their pensions.
Syed Ahmad Idid now hopes the government will similarly look into the injustice done to him.
“I hope the government would remedy the wrong done to me...,” he said, stressing that he had sent his 1996 complaint to a few top government officials but did not however make it public.
“In fact, a professional forensics expert could easily confirm that the typeset, font and paper of that covering note and the attachment could not have come from me but from a department over which I had no control.”
Syed Ahmad Idid's only regret was that he had been perceived to be an opposition sympathiser after the late Karpal Singh spoke well of him in Parliament when news of his resignation became public and again in 2006.
This, he said, had resulted in some within the government branding him as an opposition supporter. According to Syed Ahmad Idid, he was informed of this by a former cabinet minister.
“I was denied any form of support. How more injudicious can the country get,” he said.
Despite this, Syed Ahmad Idid is glad that current judges, especially those appointed by the Judicial Appointments Commission, are of quality, possessing experience and qualifications.
“This is essential in persons chosen to administer justice. A few may be young or ‘belum masak’ (not mature). But so long as they gather knowledge day by day and are fiercely honest and impartial, our judiciary will move a long way from the Eusoff Chin regime,” he remarked,
After his premature end in government service, Syed Ahmad Idid has kept himself busy with visits to the Inner Temple, his alma mater, and the International Court of Justice in The Hague as well as studying the plight of Muslims in Mindanao.
He has written extensively on the negotiations between Manila and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and on basic law.
In addition to speaking at arbitration conferences overseas, Syed Ahmad Idid has participated in the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (Uncitral) meetings in New York and Vienna.
In 2012, Syed Ahmad Idid wrote a book titled ‘Writing of Judgments: A Practical Guide for Courts and Tribunals’.