PETALING JAYA: Several human rights groups have criticised Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s warning that enforcement authorities will not hesitate to use preventive laws to detain those suspected of involvement in money-laundering activities.
The Citizen Action Group On Enforced Disappearance (CAGED), Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) and Bersih 2.0 agreed that a lack of witnesses or insufficient evidence was no excuse to put suspects under detention without a fair trial.
This came after Zahid said the police, in particular, would not compromise when acting against those who allegedly participate in illegal activities such as misusing bank accounts to make illicit payments.
“If there are no witnesses brave enough to provide information, or if there is insufficient evidence to press criminal charges against the suspects, the police will not be lenient in using the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca),” he was quoted as saying.LFL executive director Eric Paulsen said a case for the use of laws allowing detention without trial could only be made to combat matters relating to national security.
“Preventive detention may be argued as a necessary evil in this day and age in combating genuine issues of national security such as terrorism.”
However, he told FMT that this was the exception, not the norm, and that LFL was still against all forms of preventive detention.
Paulsen said using preventive laws also allowed for a lackadaisical attitude among authorities when it came to handling crimes and investigations.
“There is a serious danger of the authorities taking shortcuts, to misuse preventive detention laws like Poca or a similarly harsh law like Sosma to tackle crimes that they find difficult to handle, although usually they can be handled through existing ordinary laws,” he added.
Sosma refers to the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.
CAGED member Rama Ramanathan agreed with Paulsen, saying Zahid’s “excuse” of no witnesses and no evidence could be due to the police’s inability or incompetence.
“And the reason for scams is greed. The government must address the reasons. They must not use scams as masks to cover up inability, incompetence and greed,” he told FMT.
“Zahid is using public outrage over scams to gain sympathy for locking people up for alleged crimes, even when there are no witnesses and no evidence.”
He added that Zahid appeared unable to differentiate between money laundering and scams.
“What Zahid said is not about money laundering. He knows, and we know, that there are enough controls and laws in place around the world and in Malaysia to detect and respond to money laundering.
“1MDB prosecutions around the world are about money laundering. Action has been taken in Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Switzerland and the US.
“In fact, although not over 1MDB, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has charged people over money laundering, so Poca is clearly not needed to address such an evil.”
Rama, who is a member of the Bersih 2.0 steering committee, also questioned Zahid’s warning, asking if it could mean that opposition politicians and NGOs perceived as being out of sync with the government could become likely suspects.
“I don’t think he’s specifically targeting these politicians and NGOs, but it’s certainly not a stretch of the imagination,” he said.
“They’ve already used all kinds of laws, and even Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah has already been detained under Sosma.”
Fellow Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Jay Jay Denis meanwhile told FMT that there were already laws in place that could be used to address the problem of money laundering.
“Malaysia isn’t the Wild Wild West to lock people up without trial.
“We already have specific laws to deal with money laundering and terrorism financing, such as the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Anti-Terrorism Financing Act.”
However, Jay Jay, who was also former press secretary to Klang MP Charles Santiago, disagreed that the government would use preventive laws on politicians or NGO members.
“I think Zahid has learnt from last year’s mistake in using Sosma against Maria. That backfired on him and the government, so it’d be a huge gaffe to repeat it.”