KUALA LUMPUR: The man who decided not to pursue corruption charges against finance minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon said on Tuesday (Sep 4) that Malaysia’s Attorney-General (AG) had no hand in the decision.
Mohamad Hanafiah Zakaria, head of Appellate Trial Division of Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), said this in a statement after several parties expressed surprise at the Penang High Court's decision to acquit the duo.
Lim, Penang's former chief minister, was charged with corruption involving the purchase of a bungalow below market value from Phang.
The Penang High Court made the decision after Malaysia's AGC asked for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.
In acquitting the two accused, judge Hadhariah Syed Ismail had said she did not agree with the prosecution’s request as the charges could not be hanging over the heads of the accused indefinitely and there must be a finality in the case.
Mohamad Hanafiah said on Tuesday that the AGC had stated in a press release dated Aug 2, 2018 that AG Tommy Thomas had recused himself in all deliberations regarding the case.
As such, Mohamad Hanafiah said he was tasked to decide on the representations made by both Lim and Phang as he had not participated in the case earlier.
Mohamad Hanafiah said that the evidence supporting the first charge - of Lim using his position as the then-chief minister of Penang to gain gratification for himself and his wife - had been "substantially weakened" following cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses.
“The conclusion was arrived in light of fresh evidence that has arisen during the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses," he said.
Lim also faced a second charge of using his position to obtain for himself a plot of land and a bungalow in George Town from Phang for RM2.8 million, a price which he allegedly knew did not commensurate with the property’s then market value of RM4.27 million.
Phang was charged with abetting Lim in obtaining the bungalow at below market value.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said on Monday it was "very surprised" by the court's decision to acquit both Lim and Phang.
Mohamad Hanafiah said he had communicated his decision to withdraw the charges with Masri Mohd Daud, the MACC director who led the prosecution team in the case, at 7.18am on Monday.
“In this case, I kept confidential my decision until the very last minute and did not consult the investigative agency fearing it might leak and cause unnecessary alarm. In fact, my decision was so confidential that I only informed the AG personally at 9.44am yesterday,” he said.
He stressed that he had decided on the representations without any influence from any quarters.
Mohamad Hanafiah said that there was a letter from a legal firm representing the complainant in the case, objecting to any idea of withdrawing the charges against Lim and Phang.
“I have responded to the letter that I will decide on the case based on available evidence and governing law, which I did, without fear or favour. My utmost priority is justice,” he said.