- The Straits Times
Malaysian graft busters aired tapes of alleged conversations over 1MDB involving former PM Najib Razak on Jan 8.
Ever since, furious debate has emerged over whether the tapes were legally recorded.
Najib’s lawyer has threatened a lawsuit, and the Malaysian Bar Council criticised the broadcast as “unwarranted” and “improper”.
However, lawyers say the taping could have been legal if done with permission from the public prosecutor.
Netizens are also split, with some calling the move unnecessarily embarrassing for the former PM. Others said spying was the only way to counter corruption.
Several pointed out the irony that Najib’s government introduced the law that legalised police spying.
A day after Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) aired damning tapes of conversations involving former PM Najib Razak following his 1MDB trial, netizens are split over whether or not the move was ethical.
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Posted by SPRM on Tuesday, 7 January 2020
According to Bernama, the MACC on Thursday (Jan 9) handed over its first batch of nine tapes – lasting 45 minutes in total – to the police.
MACC chief Latheefa Koya said the agency received the tapes from an anonymous source earlier this month.
They recorded alleged phone conversations between Najib, his wife Rosmah Mansor, former MACC chief Dzulkifli Ahmad, and the Abu Dhabi crown prince, among others, between January and July 2016.
Bernama quoted Latheefa as saying on Jan 9 that police would investigate the tapes, and Najib’s lawyers were free to “take any (legal) action” against her and the agency.
On Jan 8, a “shocked” Najib told The Star he was mulling a lawsuit, as the recordings indicated wiretaps on his phone while he was head of state.
A New Straits Times article quoted the former PM as saying there were indeed agencies that could have wiretapped his phone and criticised the MACC’s move, claiming the aired tapes could “affect diplomatic relations and Malaysia’s interest with other countries”.
On Jan 9, The Star quoted Malaysia’s Bar Council president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor calling the MACC’s move to make the recordings public “unprecedented”, “unwarranted” and “improper”.
“(This move) will invite trial by media even before investigations are carried out… and has given rise to various allegations against the MACC, including allegations of contempt, sub judice, a breach of the Official Secrets Act 1972, and a withering of the rule of law,” he said.
But on Friday (Jan 10), lawyers interviewed by Malay Mail said it was legal for police to tap phone conversations if approved by the public prosecutor.
They also suggested airing the recordings was legal, as the taped conversations took place after the dates of Najib’s alleged 1MDB crimes, and therefore would not impact trials.
“If they didn’t spy, we wouldn’t be able to confirm what a s****y ex-PM we had”: Netizens
Online, netizens were also split whether the agency’s move had been proper, with many upset about laws permitting surveillance in Malaysia.
“Whilst the law allows tapping, it has to be done with due process and for specific reasons. This isn’t about Najib… this is about the standard we must expect MACC to maintain as a body that is involved in administration of justice. Tomorrow it could be against a helpless rakyat (ordinary person) accused in court,” said a Twitter user named Faisal Moideen.
Others said the MACC’s move was unnecessarily embarrassing for the former PM.
“(This) should be left within the justice system and relevant authorities. It is very childish to share the recordings with the public, embarrassing move by the MACC,” tweeted Gabriel Matayun, while a third commenter named Ding Jo-Ann said the agency could have issued select transcripts to avoid airing the intimate conversation between spouses Najib and Rosmah.
Tweeted political writer Boo Su-Lyn: “Dunno why MACC released the tapes. Why risk jeopardising a trial, especially with an independent judiciary? The tapes would be part of public record anyway.”
Nevertheless, a large number of netizens were willing to overlook the fact, given that the recordings supplied damning – though unverified – evidence of Najib’s wrongdoing.
“If they didn’t spy, we wouldn’t be able to confirm what a s****y ex-PM we had,” said Twitter user @sawcboon, while another user by the handle @hungryvagabond said spying was “the ONLY way to ensure a clean government” given Malaysia’s corruption levels.
“Thanks to MACC, the people now know for certain they (Najib and Rosmah) are the biggest crooks in this country since independence,” said a third.
Added a fourth: “I applaud Latheefa for being so strategic. We forget the ruthlessness of these people.”
To the glee of some, lawyer Syahredzan Johan also took to Twitter to point out that the law permitting police surveillance in investigations was in fact enacted during Najib’s time as Prime Minister – an irony many were quick to point out in the comments.
Can check Section 116C of CPC and Section 6 of SOSMA. All powers given to the police to "to intercept, listen to or record any conversation by communication". All introduced in 2012, when Najib was PM by his Government.
— Syahredzan Johan (@syahredzan) January 8, 2020
He later added in that the MACC was simply playing tapings it had received – meaning the agency was not responsible for how they were obtained.
“MACC themselves didn’t record. They do not know how the recordings were made. So no point asking MACC how they were made,” he tweeted.