THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has been making headlines lately with all the big names, particularly VVIPs, under investigation. No longer can critics say that the graft buster agency only focuses on “small fries” and letting off the “sharks”.
What’s remarkable about this, in my opinion, is that the MACC is now free to investigate and take action after being released from being shackled by the powers that be. While there are detractors who claimed that there is selective persecution, I beg to differ.
With the new government under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim having given total freedom to the MACC and its Chief Commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki, they have made renewed effort to nab corrupt offenders, including by re-opening old files – some decades old – involving offences of plundering the nation’s wealth.
In recent weeks, Malaysians have been told that the MACC is investigating some really big names such as former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his family as well as former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin and his family.
This is part of MACC’s investigations since August 2022 into all personalities and entities named in the Pandora Papers and the Panama Papers.
So far, Dr Mahathir’s two sons – Mirzan and Tan Sri Mokhzani Mahathir – have been called in for questioning under the MACC Act and the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLATFAPUAA).
They have also been served asset declaration notices to declare all their movable and immovable assets inside and outside the country, under Section 36(1)(b) of the MACC Act.
In Mokhzani’s case, he is also ordered to reveal his business activities involving the sale and purchase of government-linked companies (GLCs).
Unearthing of old cases
As for the Daim family, the reclusive billionaire and his wife Toh Puan Nai’mah Abdul Khalid had been charged in court separately pertaining to failure to disclose their assets.
Previously Daim, his wife and their two sons had been summoned for questioning by the MACC. The commission had also seized a building (Menara Ilham) belonging to Daim.
MACC head honcho Azam has been reported as saying that the MACC’s focus would not end with these personalities, adding that many more individuals are under its radar.
Throwing their darts at PM Anwar, Dr Mahathir and Daim had both claimed that they were being persecuted by the government of the day. Their defenders meanwhile have accused the MACC of doing the government’s dirty deeds.
However, to be fair to the MACC, the decision to investigate old cases and reopen old files are not unique. This has been done elsewhere, even in first world countries.
In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) re-opened several old criminal and corruption cases, including against prominent personalities. For example, the FBI had in 2016 re-opened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was a secretary of state.
In 2020, the FBI arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, a former associate of Jeffrey Epstein, on charges related to his alleged sex trafficking ring between 2002 and 2005.
In the UK, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious and complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases re-opened several high-profile cases, including the investigation into the alleged bribery of officials by Rolls-Royce which resulted in the company paying a record £671 mil (RM4.02 bil) settlement in 2017.
Likewise, in September 2023, British police opened sex crimes investigation into comedian Russell Brand. The investigation was prompted by news reports and complaints about Brand. The allegations against Brand include sexual assault and rape between 2006 and 2013.
Earlier in October 2012, the British police launched a formal criminal investigation into historic allegations of child sex abuse by popular media personality Jimmy Savile over four decades.
The investigation revealed that Savile had committed 214 criminal offenses between 1955 and 2009. Although Saville had died in 2011, the investigation led to sexual abuse convictions for multiple celebrity personalities.
More old cases being tried
Speaking of politicians, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) in France re-opened an investigation in 2020 into former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s alleged involvement in illegal campaign financing during his 2007 election campaign.
Meanwhile, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Germany re-opened an investigation in 2020 into a corruption scandal involving the German carmaker Volkswagen which had been on-going since 2015.
So, the timing of investigations into corrupt practices or criminal activities doesn’t matter. There could be various reasons as to why the investigations were not done much earlier.
In the Malaysian context, the answer for this is quite obvious – political interference and perhaps a lack of resources. These cases, especially involving politicians like Dr Mahathir and Daim, may have been deliberately stalled or buried by previous governments due to their sensitive nature.
In other cases, the complexity of the cases and the need for new evidence have been factors. However, the MACC is now evidently ramping up its efforts to correct the situation by clearing the cobwebs and looking into these cold cases.
The benefits of having an independent and effective anti-corruption agency cannot be overstated. As corruption has been a major obstacle to Malaysia’s growth and development, it is re-assuring to see that steps are being taken to address this issue.
We continue to hope that MACC under Azam will lead the way in the fight against corruption in Malaysia without fear or favour.
Efforts to bolster the independence of the MACC, for example by ensuring the security of tenure for the Chief Commissioner’s position and having its own Service Commission rather than relying on the Public Service Commission will ensure its independence in years to come.
Their freedom to investigate and take action is certainly a positive development for the country. – Feb 6, 2024
Suki Abdullah is a retired media practitioner who has worked as a media liaison person for a politician in the 1990s.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.