16 May, 2008

Panel finds judicial conspiracy

In Malaysia's legal system, the chief judge recommends candidates for senior judicial appointments and promotions to the prime minister, who can accept or reject those names.

Malaysia's judiciary has long been plagued by claims of favouritism and influence-peddling. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced last month an independent panel would be established to help select new judges as part of legal reforms.

A high-level inquiry found evidence that prominent government and judicial figures, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, were involved in a conspiracy to manipulate the appointment of judges, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Zaid Ibrahim said today.

The revelation deals a major blow to the reputation of Malaysia's courts and bolsters allegations by many lawyers and opposition leade rs that judicial corruption has tainted verdicts stretching back more than a decade.

Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim said a panel that investigated the video found that it was authentic, and that Lingam apparently conspired with his allies in the judiciary, government and corporate world to broker the appointment of judges.

The Cabinet told the Attorney General's office Friday to undertake immediate investigations into the "possibility that offenses against the law have been committed," Zaid told reporters.

The report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam video clip will be made public as decided by the cabinet Friday. The cabinet also ordered that the Attorney-General's Chambers begin immediate investigations into allegations against the individuals named in the report

The video — filmed by a visitor to Lingam's house — shows him talking about ways to help Ahmad Fairuz become Malaysia's top-ranking judge with the help of business tycoon Vincent Tan and Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, a former Cabinet minister.

The inquiry's report said "there was conceivably an insidious movement by (Lingam) with the covert assistance of his close friends (Tan and Tengku Adnan) to involve themselves actively in the appointment of judges."

"In the process ... Mahathir was also entangled," the report added. "Actions of the main characters concerned have the effect of seriously undermining and eroding the independence and integrity of the judiciary as a whole."

Asked whether the individuals named in the report were involved in the offences stated, Zaid said: "No, I don't want to say they were involved. It was among the findings."

On the main allegations in the report, he said there were various offences committed against the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act and Penal Code which needed to be investigated by the Attorney-General.

"We must remember that the report or recommendations are information. So, investigations have to be carried out."

Lingam claimed he may have been drunk when the video was shot. Ahmad Fairuz, who became chief justice in 2003 and retired last year, denied speaking to Lingam. Mahathir, Tengku Adnan and Tan insisted they were not part of any conspiracy.

In Malaysia's legal system, the chief judge recommends candidates for senior judicial appointments and promotions to the prime minister, who can accept or reject those names.

Copies of the Royal Commission's report will be sold to the public as published and handed in to the King last Friday.

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