KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities have charged a 31-year old man with kidnapping a Christian pastor, in a surprising turn in the closely-watched case after police had said for months they had no strong leads on his abductors.
The charge against part-time driver Lam Chang Nam forced the Malaysia Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) on Tuesday (Jan 16) to abruptly stop an ongoing public inquiry into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, 62, who has been missing since Feb 13, 2017.
The inquiry, which had gone on for 11 days, had revealed details of the kidnapping, which witnesses said appeared to be executed in minutes with military-like precision. Closed-circuit television footage believed to be from the scene of the incident showed half a dozen men in balaclavas using black SUVs to block Mr Koh's car on a public road in Petaling Jaya in broad daylight.
Suhakam chief Mah Weng Kwai told reporters on Tuesday that the hearing was halted after the commission received a letter from Malaysia's police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun saying a case on the abduction was pending in court.
The accused, Lam, was originally charged with extorting in March 2017, RM30,000 (S$10,000) from Mr Koh's son Jonathan Koh Szu Hao, 33, to release his father. On Monday, however, he was charged with kidnap.
According to a family spokesman, the police did not inform the Koh family about this new kidnapping charge.
"They only found out about it at the inquiry," the spokesman said.
The Koh family lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar told The Straits Times that his clients were disappointed that their dream of finding closure via the inquiry was dashed with the sudden turns of events.
"... yet again another wall has been constructed just as they were about to get their long-awaited closure of what truly happened to Pastor Koh. They're deeply disappointed," he said.
Mr Singh added that the police, including the nation's top cop, have made "all kinds of manoeuvres" ever since the inquiry began.
"The IGP (Inspector-General of Police) and the head of the task force in charge of investigating the case have not been cooperative throughout the proceeding. They have given their statement of oath that this person (Lam) is not involved, but suddenly he was charged with kidnapping," he said.
Lam's lawyer Aaron Mark Pius told The Star on Tuesday that he was "shocked" by the new, more serious charge against his client.
"We did not see this coming. The position we are taking is that my client denies all the allegations against him," he added.
It is not known what new leads or evidence led to the kidnap charge against Lam.
In a statement released yesterday, Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi said police had found new leads to link Lam to the pastor’s disappearance and that investigations were still ongoing.
“He is a suspect in the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh early last year along with seven more individuals still at large,” he said, without providing further details.