Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed Thursday that his government would launch a formal inquiry into allegations of judicial misconduct – including in cases involving senior politician Anwar Ibrahim – made by a sitting appellate judge in a 65-page affidavit.
Mahathir told reporters the claims would be investigated.
“We are setting up an RCI (Royal Commission of Inquiry) and it is up to them to look into the allegations,” Mahathir told reporters at a Defense Ministry event in Kuala Lumpur.
Among other claims, Court of Appeals Judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer alleged that during a dinner with several top judges a month before the 2018 General Election, they discussed how they could be removed from the bench, or be subject to investigation, if the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition won the election.
“Basically it was a confession relating to guilt,” Hamid said in the affidavit filed last week, referring to the conversation.
He also pointed out concerns involving Anwar, who had been convicted of sodomy and remained in jail during the election. Shortly after Pakatan pulled off an upset against then-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional coalition in the May 9 polls, Anwar received a royal pardon. He is expected to succeed Mahathir as prime minister.
“In Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal at the Court of Appeal, a judge told me that the Court of Appeal corum (panel of judges) was called to the chamber of top judges regularly and briefed what to do,” Hamid said.
Under the Malaysian legal system, a Royal Commission of Inquiry is a powerful inquiry initiated in the name of the Malaysian king on the advice of the prime minister. The RCI is limited only by the terms and scope of the matter in question.
“We haven’t decided on that yet (terms and regulations) but we will set up the RCI and the terms will be determined later,” Mahathir said.
Hamid also claimed that members of a “hit squad” of judges who were predisposed to rule according to a narrative established by Najib’s government were inserted as members of three judge panels.
“I have information [on] many of the constitutional misconduct of top judges in aiding and abetting them (the previous government) or being instrumental to organize a cartel of judicial rowdies,” he alleged.
Meanwhile, Latt Shariman Abdullah, who served in Najib’s government as a special function officer, questioned Mahathir’s announcement.
“A Royal Commission of Inquiry based on just one affidavit and a 20-minute MACC interview? Most impressive and historical indeed,” he said sarcastically.
“Do we expect a full tribunal to remove sitting judges at the end of its findings, save one or two clean ones as Justice Hamid asserted (save himself of course), since judges can’t be removed by this RCI but only by a tribunal of their peers,” he told BenarNews.
Court proceedings to go on
Attorney General Tommy Thomas insisted that all cases at all levels of Malaysia’s superior and subordinate courts would continue to be heard.
“The establishment of an RCI does not mean that an automatic or blanket postponement of all cases would follow,” Thomas said in a statement Thursday.
He cited a 1988 tribunal into allegations of judicial misconduct as well as a 2007 RCI into allegations of outside intervention into the appointments of judges.
“The ordinary business in all the courts proceeded as usual and no adjournments were entertained by the courts,” Thomas said.
Lawyer Haniff Khatri, who represents Hamid, argued that the previous cases were different because his client’s allegations affected the integrity of the entire judicial system and not just some individuals.
“The scope of this RCI needs to be wider because it offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to thoroughly clean up the judiciary from corrupt practices that besmirched the dignity of the government arm,” Haniff told BenarNews.
The lawyer is calling for the government to allow the RCI to open a channel for other individuals from within the judiciary to lodge their own complaints to get a clearer picture of the state of corruption.
“It should not just be on my client’s affidavit, even though it contains plenty of damning allegations,” he said while adding most judiciary members are honest.
“We need to make sure the people at the bottom feel they are being heard where their honest work is seen, and not be lumped together with the corruption at the top,” he said. “So the government should give them a chance to speak.”