Both the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and MACC owe the public an explanation over the acquittal of Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng over his corruption charges, says Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) executive director Cynthia Gabriel.
In a statement today, Gabriel said that Lim's acquittal not only raises questions about the independence of government institutions from partisan interests but also underscores the need for clarification over the initial charge against the former Penang chief minister.
"Mohamed Apandi Ali was so confident in leading the prosecution against Lim, himself.
"If the then attorney-general was so certain in the case, how can it be so easily dropped by the High Court today?
"Either the previous attorney-general was coerced to press charges in court, or the system is always stacked in favour of the existing government," Gabriel said.
Her statement comes following the acquittal of Lim from two graft charges over the alleged conversion of state land status and purchase of a bungalow at below market value, by the Penang High Court earlier today.
The court also acquitted businessperson Phang Li Koon from the charge of abetting Lim in obtaining the bungalow at an undervalued cost.
The MACC has since said that it is "very shocked" with the charges being dropped and clarified that the decision came from the AGC, and not the commission.
'Raises suspicious flags'
According to Gabriel, the ease with which Lim (photo) was freed, even when the prosecution asked for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, raises "highly suspicious flags".
"C4 Center, as an organisation championing anti-corruption and accountable governance, is concerned that our venerable institutions are subject to political interference and/or partisan motivations when it comes to corruption.
"This development in the Lim case begs transparent explanations from the MACC and the AGC," she said, further noting that the MACC should not just push the responsibility solely to the AGC by expressing shock, but explain to the public, the initial reasons to recommend charges to be pressed against Lim in the first place.
Both the MACC and AGC must act without fear or favour of political repercussions, and neither for the wish of currying political favour, she added.
"One method, which C4 Center has long been advocating, is by separating the public prosecutor’s office from the attorney-general’s purview, she said.
The statement highlighted the need for public confidence in the independence of these institutions to be restored, or there would be no difference from the previous regime "who shamelessly trampled upon and compromised these institutions".
"Urgent steps must be taken to instil independence and insulate them from partisan politics of the day," she stressed.
'AGC should explain
Meanwhile, Umno youth chief Asyraf Wajdi said Lim’s discharge is only the latest in a series of dropped cases since attorney-general Tommy Thomas took office.
“The dropping of these cases without strong and convincing justification shows a propensity towards selective prosecutions by the Attorney-General’s Chambers,” he said in a statement asking Thomas for an explanation.
He claimed that Lim’s case appears similar to the case that landed former Selangor menteri besar Khir Toyo in jail adding that the MACC statement stating that the commission is shocked by the discharge shows there is strong grounds for prosecution.
“It should be the court that determines whether he is guilty or not and not the attorney-general, (especially for) this case that is already in progress and has summoned 25 witnesses,” he said.
Also calling for an explanation in a tweet is Permatang Pauh MP, Nurul Izzah Anwar (photo above).
"The Attorney-General's Chambers must come forward to provide an explanation," she tweeted.
Nurul Izzah also responded to another tweet who posted the link to a 2013 news report of her asking for the MACC to be given the power to prosecute, as the AGC had allegedly failed to do so.
"Thanks for reminding. I reiterate my stand today. We want, and need a reform to the system," she tweeted.
Terima kasih kerana mengingatkan. Saya mengulangi pendirian yang sama hari ini. Kita mahukan dan perlukan reformasi sistem https://t.co/D0pm8q22fZ— Nurul Izzah (@n_izzah) September 3, 2018
In a separate statement, Kelantan PAS Youth chief Ahmad Fadhli Shaari said there was nothing to be "shocked" about Lim's acquittal, since freeing Harapan-aligned individuals had "become a trend", after the May 9 general election.
"First it was PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli who was let off with a two-year good behaviour bond, then Sungai Buloh MP R Sivarasa, followed by Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, activist Mandeep Singh, and so on.
"Hence, Lim's acquittal is expected, and nothing to be shocked about," he said.