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'I hope Thomas doesn't go down as AG who chickened out of prosecuting'

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Former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad today took aim at attorney-general Tommy Thomas for his decisions in recent high-profile cases, including the corruption case against former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Though Thomas was initially the chief prosecutor for Najib's case, he later withdrew from the case saying that his responsibilities as AG took precedence.

He then appointed former Bar president Sulaiman Abdullah on Aug 31 to lead the prosecution in his stead.

“This is another first scored by Thomas. Never in the legal history of Malaysia did an AG admit he was unable to cope with the demands of the work as an AG, that he had to appoint a private lawyer to do the prosecution of a case.

“Or, is he chickening out because he had no experience in prosecution? This case is certainly not the kind of case for anyone to learn to prosecute,” he said in a lengthy posting on his blog.

Hamid also pointed out that Thomas was given eight months to prepare for the case, and noted that deputy public prosecutors do not even get a month, let alone eight, to do so.

'AG missed chance to prove himself'

This, Hamid said, proves his point that private lawyers, no matter how prominent, have no experience with handling investigation papers or prosecution – which is why AGs need to be appointed from the judicial and legal service instead.

In June, the former chief justice took Thomas to task over the announcement that the Attorney-General's Chambers will no longer represent the Election Commission in court, saying the latter "cannot pick and choose his briefs as if he is still in private practice."

“In any event, he has missed the chance to prove himself as a capable prosecutor, if he is, in the most important and most controversial case in the Malaysian legal history that will be remembered for a long time.

“Hopefully, he will not be remembered as the AG who chickened out from prosecuting the former prime minister."

Read more: Ex-CJ: Was AGC playing 'safe' by seeking DNAA for Guan Eng?

Hamid also criticised Thomas for appointing former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram as a deputy public prosecutor to study the investigation papers on 1MDB. This would mean, he said, Sri Ram advising Thomas on whether there is a prima facie case against Najib. 

It is uncommon for the AG to make a decision on whether to prosecute based on what someone else tells him, he said, and not studying the evidence himself. 

“In such an important case, one would expect the AG himself to study the papers, assisted by the officers and make the decision himself."

Even if the AG does not examine these papers himself, Hamid added, there are experienced officers in the AGC who prosecuted similar cases that can be relied upon – instead of hiring an outsider who has never seen investigations papers in his career.

'Demoralising the AGC'

Hamid added that since Thomas is not going through the investigation papers himself, it is unlikely that he would be prosecuting the cases as well.

“In appointing Sulaiman and Sri Ram to do the work of the prosecutor, Thomas has also demoralised the whole of the appellate and prosecution division, indeed the whole of the AGC.

“It is as if he has no confidence in his officers who had been doing the work for decades. It is as if they are incompetent,” he said.

In his blog post, Hamid also found fault in several other cases decided on by Thomas, including the Equanimity case, the Sarawak vs Petronas case, and the withdrawal of charges against Pakatan Harapan lawmakers and supporters.

“So far, Thomas is better known for what he does not do or does not want to do instead of what he does,” he said, though adding that Thomas has succeeded in persuading three members of the Bar to do his work free of charge.

“We can only thank those lawyers for their sacrifice. Would they be prepared to do the same if the accused were a Harapan government minister?” Hamid questioned.

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