pic by TMR FILE
THE curious turn in Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz’s (picture) money laundering case would definitely send chills down the spines of those who rallied against kleptocrats prior to the last general election.
And the chills are ominous as there are concerns that it wouldn’t stop only with Riza, the stepson of ex-Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, but instead marked the setting of a precedent for others in tow.
When news broke of prosecutors deciding to grant Riza a discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) over money laundering charges involving nearly US$248 million (RM1.08 billion) after he agreed to return US$107 million, concerns over it being a precedent for other pending 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB)-related cases became a public discourse.
Such was the attention on the subject, the PM’s Office decided to issue a statement to deny any involvement of the PM in the plea bargain, prompting some to question as to what had necessitated the denial.
Despite that, the issue remained two-pronged — firstly as to how such a deal could have been struck and secondly, whether it is a sign as to how prosecutors would deal with pending related cases.
On the first part, several quarters raised the issue of double standard: A number taking to social media on how a poor man stealing two cans of sardines ended up being jailed, while Riza, connected to a man of means and aristocracy, could get away by returning a portion of what was allegedly siphoned.
While the double standard is the bone of contention and its coming back-to-back of an earlier sore point involving the daughter of Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who escaped a jail sentence for breaching the Movement Control Order, the other contention is on the monies to be returned.
It was pointed out that the monies and assets to be returned are those that had already been seized by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), meaning that whether Riza agrees to return them or not, the monies and assets would have been obtained by the Malaysian authorities as the DoJ had been returning seized 1MDB monies and assets since the fall of the kleptocrats.
Another aspect is simply on the quantum as any robber who had stolen a substantial amount of money or assets, say around RM100 million, would be able to get a discharge by returning half of it. Anyone would then want to be a robber who would still be left with RM50 million of the stolen loot and now could spend it legitimately.
Then, there is the debate that the plea or representation of Riza case had been considered even during the time of the former Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Tommy Thomas and that the current AG is merely picking up from where the former had left.
Thomas had outrightly denied he would have agreed with the deal, saying that it would be a travesty of justice and a betrayal to the trust and mandate given to him by the previous administration.
Despite that, the current legal team continued to insist that the DNAA resulted from the previous administration’s decision.
While this aspect of the debate can continue until documents are shown to back the accusations, the crux of the matter is why did the current AG agree to it even if it was a decision by his predecessor?
In reflection, before the kleptocrats were defeated, the AG then had cleared Najib and others involved in the 1MDB case of any wrongdoings.
But when the new administration took over and Thomas made the AG, they proceeded to prove that there is a case against those accused to have a hand in the infamy.
Even though a segment of the Malaysian society still refused to accept that a crime was committed in the 1MDB scandal, the millions returned by the DoJ and the willingness of Riza to “return” the millions is a testimony to crime as those monies and assets are not their own.
Hence, the concern of how the other 1MDB cases would turn out after Riza’s DNAA.
On the political front, with a wafer-thin majority in Parliament, questions are also raised as to how Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin plans to hold on to his position.
The recent opportunity to regain his legitimacy by facing a vote of no confidence was missed on grounds of not wanting to have too much politicking going on at a time the nation is besieged with the Covid-19 crisis.
But quite a number of people saw through the smokescreen as the current administration had been actively playing politics at state levels, taking over from elected government and replacing them with partners of those involved in the forming of a government not voted in by the people.
Apart from that, eyes are also on the six from Umno who are facing numerous charges related to 1MDB and other financial misappropriation in court, and they are included in the majority that supports Muhyiddin. Obviously, he cannot afford to lose any of them.
The PM is indeed in a sticky situation — if the court found all or most of them guilty, he would lose his majority. If the courts find some or all of them not guilty, then he would be accused of interfering in the course of justice and the judiciary.
Curiouser and curiouser seems an apt description for the Riza case.
Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.