Easy to catch the cor­rupt

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

UN­TIL Oc­to­ber 2006, few peo­ple out­side po­lit­i­cal cir­cles knew him. He rose from an ob­scure rail­way gate­keeper stay­ing in a one-room quar­ters at the rail­way cross­ing where he was re­quired to raise the bar­ri­ers to al­low ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic to flow af­ter the trains had passed by.

By the time theSun front-paged the story on his “me­te­oric rise” and his “palace” which he had built on land meant for low-cost hous­ing, his po­si­tions in the party and as a state assem­bly­man were hang­ing by a thread.

The late Zakaria Mat Deros (God bless his soul) gained no­to­ri­ety for build­ing his 16bed­room house with­out even sub­mit­ting build­ing plans. He had not paid the as­sess­ment for 12 years on two low-cost units pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by his large fam­ily.

So, last week nos­tal­gia came back when the Ikan Bakar man took jour­nal­ists on a he­li­copter ride to show the “palace” of a politi­cian – a di­vi­sional youth leader in the opposition.

Pre­ced­ing this, Crime Watch supremo al­leged that the in­spec­tor-gen­eral of po­lice had him­self built yet another “palace” in Mantin.

The ac­cusers in both in­stances asked the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate them al­leg­ing that they must ex­plain how they got the money to ac­quire such prop­erty.

This prompted a Face­book user to sug­gest in jest that he wants part­ners to start a he­li­copter ser­vice for aerial tours to pick out man­sions of politi­cians. In ban­ter, I of­fered my ser­vices and rea­soned that I had a good track record.

Over the years, I have come across sev­eral or­di­nary cikgu who be­came mil­lion­aires af­ter their foray into pol­i­tics. There are scores of “po­lit­i­cally con­nected peo­ple” (to bor­row a term that has now be­come the new mantra for banks and bankers) liv­ing in sim­i­lar lux­ury.

There are also good peo­ple who stepped into the dark side un­able to re­sist their own temp­ta­tion or that of their wives to lead dif­fer­ent lifestyles and keep up with the Jone­ses. There are some fe­male golfers who even have golf bags to match the colour of their at­tire.

Then there’s the av­er­age man who is turned over be­cause he can’t make ends meet on his mea­gre salary and many de­pen­dants. But the law does not dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the poor, the mid­dle class and the rich. Per­haps, such a fac­tor could be pleaded in mit­i­ga­tion for a lighter sen­tence.

I have been re­peat­edly told that be­ing rich or wealthy does not con­sti­tute an of­fence.

An of­fence only takes place if the money is ob­tained il­le­gally – cor­rup­tion, money laun­der­ing, crim­i­nal breach of trust, cheat­ing and the like.

Ask­ing the au­thor­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate the source of the money is dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory full of mine fields and clus­ter bombs.

First of all, the Malaysian Anti-Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion (MACC) can only com­pel some­one to de­clare his as­sets. Once the as­sets are de­clared, there is no of­fence.

Sec­ond, if he or she is caught with the cash or money in the bank, a non-ac­cept­able ex­pla­na­tion would lead to charges of mon­ey­laun­der­ing – NOT cor­rup­tion; not get­ting as­sets through cor­rup­tion; not get­ting money from il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.

We had the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to put it right when for­mer prime min­is­ter Tun Ab­dul­lah Ah­mad Badawi pro­mul­gated the Malaysian Anti-Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion Act to re­place the out­dated Anti-Cor­rup­tion Act to­wards the end of his ten­ure.

In the pro­pos­als was a clause which stated: “It shall be an of­fence of any per­son to lead a life­style or pos­sess as­sets which are dis­pro­por­tion­ate to his or her de­clared in­come.”

By the time this leg­is­la­tion was pre­sented as a bill in Par­lia­ment, this clause had been re­moved from the orig­i­nal draft. We were then told that sev­eral “war­lords” within the sys­tem op­posed the clause be­cause they them­selves would have to ac­count for their wealth!

So, in­stead of putting the onus on the of­fi­cial sus­pected of cor­rup­tion to prove he earned the money le­git­i­mately, the pros­e­cu­tion has to prove that he had re­ceived a grat­i­fi­ca­tion. That is dif­fi­cult be­cause cor­rup­tion is a vic­tim­less crime. Both giver and taker ben­e­fit and one usu­ally will not squeal on the other.

In the ab­sence of such leg­is­la­tion, the pros­e­cu­tion usu­ally files money laun­der­ing charges. But the core is­sue of prov­ing that he or she was a cor­rupt per­son through the le­gal process be­comes al­most im­pos­si­ble. In such cir­cum­stances, it leaves Joe Pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion to run wild as to the source of the wealth.

Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances, shouldn’t that catch-all clause be re-vis­ited with a view to tight­en­ing our anti-cor­rup­tion laws? Hong Kong has been suc­cess­ful in its fight be­cause such a clause in its leg­is­la­tion em­pow­ers of­fi­cers from the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion Against Cor­rup­tion to serve no­tice de­mand­ing ex­pla­na­tions from sus­pected cor­rupt of­fi­cials.

If they fail to pro­vide a plau­si­ble or sat­is­fac­tory ac­count of their wealth, they are pros­e­cuted. A few like-minded lawyer­friends had a dis­cus­sion on this and came to the con­clu­sion that if this clause is in­cor­po­rated, our pris­ons would be over­crowded.

R. Nadeswaran had the ben­e­fit of see­ing the “new” leg­is­la­tion be­fore and af­ter it was pre­sented and passed in Par­lia­ment. Com­ments: ci­ti­zen-nades@the­sundaily.com

Flash­back of theSun’s re­ports pub­lished in Oc­to­ber 2006.

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