Legal recourse could be Tommy Thomas’ only resort to set record straight

Could former Attorney-General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas seek legal recourse to clear his name and set the record straight over his role in the Riza Aziz controversial settlement?

Thomas could write to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and request they reveal minutes of the case to the public, failing which, he may get a court order to compel the AGC to reveal the minutes.

There is also the possibility of suing MACC for defamation if he finds the commission’s May 14 statement makes him look untruthful.

Earlier today, Twentytwo13 ran an article stating Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram is the best person to shed light on the much debated settlement. Barely hours later, Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun issued a statement claiming he was “advised” that his predecessor, Thomas, was prepared to consider a representation from Riza Aziz last year to drop money laundering charges provided certain conditions were met.

Idrus’ statement, available on the AGC website, did not name the person who had “advised” him.

Soon after, Sri Ram – a retired Federal Court judge turned private practitioner who was appointed by Thomas to lead the prosecution – was quoted by The Star as saying: “Once (the) AG has made a statement, that is the end of the matter.”

The matter – at least as far as Thomas is concerned – is clearly far from over. The former AG will unlikely keep mum.

Thomas came into the picture following a May 14 statement by the MACC that ended by saying: “The agreement between the prosecution and the accused through representation in court was a decision considered and agreed by the former Attorney-General, Tan Sri Tommy Thomas.”

“Absolutely shocked” by MACC’s statement, Thomas dismissed it as a “lie“.

Thomas may most likely issue another “detailed” statement following Idrus’ claims and Sri Ram’s brief reply but that will only prolong the “he says, they say” battle.

Riza, known by many as the Hollywood producer or the Tournament Advisor for the ATP World Tour 250 event held in Kuala Lumpur close to a decade ago, was charged with five counts of money laundering punishable under Section 4(1) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001. He was alleged to have received proceeds of an unlawful activity, totalling some US$248 million linked to 1MDB, between April 2011 and November 2012.

Riza is the stepson of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who is also embroiled in the 1MDB saga.

Through the arrangement with Riza, Idrus said the government is expected to recover approximately US$108 million (subject to the eventual sale proceeds of the assets and deduction of the associated costs thereof) to be credited into the 1MDB Asset Recovery Trust Account. This is in addition to the US$57,036,688.68 which was forfeited earlier in April 2019 from Red Granite Pictures, a company co-owned by Riza, and funds of which are traceable to 1MDB.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir told Twentytwo13 the Attorney-General is clothed with power under Article 145 of the Federal Constitution, and Section 376 of the Criminal Procedure Code, as public prosecutor to determine the direction of criminal proceedings.

“The charges against Riza were framed purely on AMLA, without any other predicated offences. Section 92 of AMLA provides for the matter to be compounded by the authorities with the consent of the public prosecutor,” he said.

“Discharge not amounting to acquittal is not a full acquittal. It’s a conditional release and failure to fulfill the agreement will necessitate one to be recharged with the same offences.”

Salim added the mechanics of it is also partly similar to Prosecution Deferred Agreement which is used in the UK for financial crime or corporate fraud matters.

This case is beyond the individuals named in the statements.

At the mirco level, Thomas may be banking on Sri Ram – the man who he appointed – to help him set the record straight. Sri Ram, however, wouldn’t want to add anything further to what his “new boss” Idrus has said as he would be seen as jumping the gun.

At the macro level, the battle between the previous AG appointed by Pakatan Harapan against this Perikatan Nasional-appointed successor will naturally hurt the government’s reputation. Perikatan is already labelled a backdoor government and the loose, unregistered coalition does not need another headache that will only strengthen Pakatan’s comeback bid.

The truth will only be known if and when the details of the proceedings are made public.