Dr M also 'shocked' by Guan Eng's graft acquittal

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KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 3): Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is also shocked over the acquittal of Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng of corruption charges involving the purchase of a bungalow below market value that were brought against him by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2016.

Dr Mahathir expressed the sentiment today when asked by reporters to comment on a statement issued by MACC earlier in the day, in which the anti-graft agency stated it was "very shocked" by the acquittal. In its statement, the MACC had also stressed that the decision to withdraw the charge against the case was decided by the Attorney-General's Chambers and not by the MACC.

In response, Dr Mahathir told reporters after an event in Brunei: "MACC has the right to be shocked. If they want to be shocked, then go ahead. I was shocked too."

"That is the decision of the court. I have never questioned the court's decision. Even in the past, when a decision was wrong, I never questioned it. If it is a decision by the court, we have to accept. If we don't want to accept, we can appeal," he added.

Earlier today in Penang, High Court Judge Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail acquitted Lim and businesswoman Phang Li Koon over alleged irregularities and elements of corruption involved in the purchase of the bungalow.

Hadhariah also decided the charges against them be dropped, despite the prosecution proposing only a discharge not amounting to an acquittal. In granting Lim a full acquittal, Hadhariah said the criminal charge "cannot be hanging over the head of the accused indefinitely".

The prosecution team was led by Datuk Masri Mohd Daud, while Lim was represented by lead counsel Ramkarpal Singh. Phang was represented by Datuk V. Sithambaram.

On June 30, 2016, Lim claimed trial to two charges of using his position as a public officer — he was then the Penang Chief Minister — to gain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew Gek Cheng. Phang, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty to conspiring with Lim in the purchase of the house.

Ramkarpal similarly expressed his "shock" today in relation to the case, although it was in response to MACC's statement after the acquittal.

"I am shocked to have read a statement by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) today that it was shocked that former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was acquitted by the Penang High Court for two counts of corruption after the prosecution told the court that it wished to withdraw the said charges.

"It is ridiculous for MACC to claim ignorance when the director of its own legal and prosecution division, Mohd Masri Daud, informed the court that he was withdrawing the charges. I was in court this morning with other counsels for both accused persons, and there was no hint of dissatisfaction from him or his team reflecting MACC's said claim," he said in a statement.

He added that MACC's stance implied that Mohd Masri was not aware of the A-G's decision to withdraw the charges.

"There is nothing shocking about today's acquittal, as no man should be left with a possible prosecution in the future hanging over his head by the grant of an order of DNAA especially when there is a clear indication that the prosecution wishes to withdraw that charge against him. This is elementary and the MACC's failure to understand this is most unfortunate," he added.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took the opportunity over the series of "shock" expressions issued and quipped on Twitter: "Hari ini hari apa? Hari terkejut?" (What day is it today? A day of shocks?)