Editorial Notes

High profile graft cases in Malaysia must be resolved quickly: The Star

Cash and valuables seized by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission from two officials in Malaysia's Sabah Water Department, in October 2016.
Cash and valuables seized by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission from two officials in Malaysia's Sabah Water Department, in October 2016. PHOTO: NSTP

In its editorial on March 1, the paper urges the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to settle cases more quickly, as public scrutiny of high profile cases decreases over the course of a long trial.

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Four men detained for alleged bribery were released unconditionally on Monday by a court in Ipoh. It's not the first time that suspects have been released during investigations into corruption cases.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) deputy public prosecutor has warned about the risk of destruction of evidence. Going by history, the case is likely to be a tough one for the MACC.

Over the past two years, the MACC has hogged the limelight.

It became the focal point when there were changes to the top three positions last year.

In August last year, a new chief commissioner was appointed to helm MACC.

Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad, from the Attorney-General's Chambers, replaced Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed.

His appointment was initially met with scepticism, coming as it did during investigations into the affairs of 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

However in the last six months, the MACC has nabbed many big names.

The biggest catch was the arrest and subsequent charges filed against the Sabah Water Department director, his wife and former deputy director.

The cash seized was RM56.9million (S$80.3 million), while other assets included six luxury vehicles and 86 branded watches.

Last week, the MACC arrested six people suspected to be involved in a multi-million ringgit land scam in Johor Baru. The scam involved conversion of houses meant for bumiputra buyers to non-bumi lots.

In relation to this case, the MACC arrested the son of a state executive councillor and several other people.

The amount of money seized was about RM20million in more than 45 bank accounts.

Without a doubt, MACC's actions are gaining traction. To some extent, this has mitigated the negative perception that the commission claims it faces.

However, for the commission to be taken seriously, what is required is a speedy end to the court cases.

At the moment, after the charges are brought, there is a long period of silence.

It takes a long time - if ever - before the accused are finally convicted.

Most high profile cases are almost forgotten by the end of a long trial.

Even when there is a conviction, the severity of the punishment is not commensurate with the gravity of offence.

For instance, one of the biggest corporate fallouts in the history of Malaysia was the collapse of Sime Bank in the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis. The chief executive officer, Datuk Ismail Zakaria, was charged in 1999.

The case only concluded in August last year, with the court imposing a fine of RM600,000 on Ismail.

He was convicted on four charges in relation to the issuance of credit facilities amounting to RM175million.

Ismail, who was 74 then, was already bankrupt and wheelchair-bound. There was no custodial sentence imposed, due to his poor health.

Not many Malaysians would remember that during the crisis years of 1997/98, the financial health of Sime Bank was of grave concern to Bank Negara because, if not contained, it could have led to the collapse of the entire financial system of the country.

The Sime Bank fiasco was a major news item then.

However, over the years, the glare of publicity decreased and so did the scrutiny of the case.

In other countries such as South Korea and Hong Kong, high profile cases are investigated by the anti-corruption agency and the hearing is expedited.

The speed with which action is taken and the case settled has had an immense impact on society.

More importantly, it has improved the perception of the anti-corruption agencies in the two countries.

MACC cases deserve similar treatment so that justice is not only done, but seen to be done quickly.

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