FIRST, complying with the likely recommendation of their politician-lawyers, the family of Teoh Beng Hock jettisoned themselves from the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to probe the death of their kin, on the contention that the Attorney-General’s Chamber’s participation would tar proceedings.
(The assertion was that the A-G was a “biased” participant on the account that the chambers was appealing in the High Court against the coroner’s open verdict on Teoh’s death. RCI chairman, Federal Court judge Tan Sri James Foong Cheng Yuen, dismissed the contention as groundless)
According to some pro-opposition news reports, the cynical choreography of three withdrawals in quick succession tries to force the impression that the RCI is reeling out of control, its credibility sullied by the departures.
People get the wrong impression that the three groups are limbs to the RCI’s anatomy — they are not. They are simply part of the participatory process of watching briefs and watchdogs, so their abrupt withdrawals mean that the Teohs renounced a priceless opportunity to observe and pose pertinent questions at the inquiry.
From the public standpoint, Karpal and Gobind acted not in their client’s interest by not advising against withdrawal, but instead played a well-supported cameo to seize the political initiative.
If this had been a poker game, the government had not only called the DAP’s bluff but also raised the ante to bet on everything that was required in the inquiry of a questionable death — and more.
If Teoh was murdered, the RCI is determined to expose his murderer. The suspects list will be extended beyond officers of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission — prematurely and unfairly implied by the opposition as the main suspects — to cover politicians closely associated with Teoh.
By now the lawyers will realise that RCI chairman Foong is no pushover. Rather than tangle with Foong in prospective arguments where they may not secure the upper hand, a strategic retreat was the shrewd early move.
However, as a parting shot, the dissenters just had to cast aspersions on Foong’s credibility by characterising him as a presiding officer with a conflict of interest, just because he is a sitting Federal Court judge.
The histrionics failed. The RCI team adjudged the application for Foong to recuse himself as baseless.
Datuk Seri Mohd Shafee Abdullah, legal counsel for MACC, put some perspective to back Foong’s continued chairmanship by pointing out that in previous British Royal Commissions of Inquiry, Law Lords sat as panellists and chairmen. Foong, therefore, is as credible as they come.
Then there was the complaint that Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand was not summoned to testify. The RCI took heed and included Dr Pornthip, despite her exaggerated declarations in ascertaining Teoh’s death, first by flippantly adducing that Teoh’s death was “80 per cent homicide” just by looking at his autopsy pictures.
Dr Pornthip’s second assertion was even more flippant. For someone with a reputation of not being a shrinking violet, she claimed that she was pressured by “someone” in Putrajaya not to testify in Teoh’s inquest last year despite having the gumption to take on very powerful people in Thailand besides attracting a RM100,000 bounty on her head.
Siding with the Teohs, the Bar Council posed this question: what would happen if the High Court, which has a May 23 date to have the case mentioned, and the RCI delivered contradicting findings?
Bar Council representative Christopher Leong suggested that the A-G’s Chambers withdraw the revision or apply to postpone the hearing until the inquiry is completed.
Leong may have a point but there is no word yet on a fresh direction that might be assumed by the A-G’s Chambers.
But in the meantime, should the inquiry be deferred on the account of the RCI-High Court “colliding” scenario? Foong, who would be very familiar with the workings of a court case, has no misgivings to continue, confident that the RCI can act prudently and independently.
An earlier contention that the RCI be deferred because the inquiry’s April 25 deadline clashed with Messrs Karpal & Gobind’s many court appearances has been disregarded and dismissed as frivolous. Their pre-meditated withdrawal makes the “clashing” excuse even more irrelevant and inconsequential to begin with.
In the long run and based on the authority empowered to them by the king, it is the RCI’s autonomy and self-determination that is to be savoured and appreciated to bring absolute closure to this grisly affair that may continue to haunt the Malaysian psyche.