Criminologist calls for tougher sentences against officers of the court convicted of graft

A higher standard should be used by the courts when it comes to sentencing officers of the court found guilty of crimes related to graft and corruption to preserve the sanctity of the criminal justice system.

Datuk Dr P. Sundramoorthy, an honorary associate professor (criminology) at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, said imposing a lenient sentence on those guilty of such crimes, especially those holding public office, would erode the public’s trust in the system.

He was commenting on a recent case of a senior federal counsel in Penang, who was fined RM130,000 and jailed for a day by the Butterworth Sessions Court, after pleading guilty to three counts of bribery last week.

On July 6, 2020, the accused, Lim Cheah Yit, 43, was charged with three counts of bribery – soliciting, accepting and physically taking money during an entrapment under Section 16(a)(B) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act, 2009.

He was accused of committing the offences at a family entertainment centre in Gurney, George Town, at a hotel in Jalan Bukit Gambir in Butterworth and at the MACC Alor Setar office in Kedah, between March 2020 and June 2020.

The penalty, under Section 24 of the MACC Act warrants for a jail term of not exceeding 20 years, and a fine of not less than five times the sum of the gratification, or RM10,000, whichever is higher.

However, on Aug 7, 2021, Lim, pleaded guilty to an alternative charge under Section 165 of the Penal Code, that warrants a jail term of up to two years, a fine, or both.

Deputy public prosecutor Mohd Mukhzany Fariz Moktar was quoted in a Free Malaysia Today report on Saturday, saying it was a fair punishment, as Lim had only received RM100,000 as a bribe, and that too, in a ‘sting’ set up by the MACC with marked bills.

Given that Lim did not receive a single sen, but had merely solicited and received the bribe, Mukhzany said the RM130,000 fine and a day in jail was fair, given the facts of the case that were presented to the court.

However, the sentence meted by the court, shocked many, including Sundramoorthy, a criminologist.

“The issue is not the quantum of the bribe… it has to do with the accused person’s professional background,” said Sundramoorthy.

“The consensus from the majority is that the sentence imposed on the accused was a mere slap on the wrist, and would not deter others from committing the crime.”

The accused was attached with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (Penang branch) at the time the offence was committed.

“It is a case of grossly underestimating that the person charged was a senior federal counsel. The case has also raised questions on the participation of others within the department,” he said.

Sundramoorthy said the DPP’s office ought to appeal against the decision that was meted by Sessions Court judge Ahmad Zahari Abdul Hamid.

“It does not help that the prime minister himself had recently said that there had been attempts to get him to interfere in ongoing court cases,” he said.

As sentencing is meant to punish, prevent the offender from committing more crime, and deter others from committing similar offences, Sundramoorthy wondered if those objectives could be achieved by sending the accused to jail for only one day.

“We need to ask ourselves if the court’s sentence will prevent anyone else in a similar capacity from committing such an offence,” Sundramoorthy said.

“While plea bargaining or offering an alternative charge to save the court’s time and to secure a conviction does happen, it is baffling that it was allowed in this case,” he added.

Sundramoorthy said he also found it bizarre that the DPP had said the sentence was justified because the accused merely solicited for a bribe, and did not get any money in the end.

“We always hear DPPs arguing they will appeal a case. However, here we have a case of another officer of the court, who appears to be justifying the sentence given to an accused person,” he added.

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