WE HAVE WHAT APPEARS TO BE ONE OF THE MOST INEPT, CORRUPT AND FOOLISH GOVERNMENTS MALAYSIA HAS EVER HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF SEEING IN POWER. BUT IS IT REALLY ALL THAT BAD? OR IS IT THAT THIS GOVERNMENT SIMPLY HAS NO CLUE AS TO WHAT TO DO OR SAY IN MOMENTS OF CRISIS? EVERY TIME ONE OCCURS, AS INDEED ONE DID IN KUALK LUMPUR LAST WEEK, THE NATION MARCHES HELPLESSLY AS ITS LEADERS MAKE A FOOL OF THEMSELVES. HAVING BEEN A JOURNALIST FOR THREE DECADES, ONE HAS SEEN WORSE, FAR WORSE GOVERNMENTS, THOUGH NOT PERHAPS AS CORRUPT. BUT NEVER HAVE I SEEN ONE THAT HAS BOTH ITS FEET SO FIRMLY IN ITS MOUTH.
In 1959, a murder shook India. It also evoked intense public debate. Not on whether the murderer should be given a tougher sentence but if he ought to be freed with honour. At the centre of the controversy was a naval officer (a bit like Emile Jerome but far more senior; he was a Naval Commander who had worked as a Defence Attache) and his name remains in the annals of Indian criminal law, making it that much more difficult for any judge to decide between a murder and a crime of passion (or crime passionnel as the French lovingly call it).Murder is indeed a heinous crime. But a crime of passion is not the same. It’s never premeditated but occurs, almost by accident, in a moment of high emotional stress. It’s a crime committed suddenly, in the heat of the moment, often with strong moral justification, but a crime nevertheless that needs to be punished because our society does not know, as yet, a better way to differentiate between one murder and another. All it does therefore is make the sentence slightly less severe than capital punishment or life imprisonment, the two ways in which a murderer is punished.
Commander Nanavati’s case was first tried by a jury. It acquitted him 8 to 1. The angry State not only went into appeal but abolished all jury trials forever. The High Court, where the case went for retrial, adjudged Nanavati guilty and in 1961, the Supreme Court upheld the decision on the ground that Nanavati had packed off his wife and children to Metro to watch a movie while he picked up a gun and six cartridges and went to meet his wife’s lover, a Sindhi businessman called Prem Ahuja. After a brief altercation, Nanavati pumped three bullets into him when he answered his question (“Will you marry my wife and look after my children?”) with an insolent “Do I have to marry every woman I sleep with? The fact that after the crime, Nanavati surrendered to the police did not help him. Instead, it bolstered the prosecution argument, led by Ram Jethmalani, that the murder was premeditated. Public opinion thought otherwise. Nanavati became a cult figure: An upright man defending his honour against a sleazy sleepabout. So much so that after three years he was pardoned by the Governor.
The Susairaj case has many resemblances to this. Most important is the fact that it’s also a crime of passion. By that definition, the judgement appears fair because Emile Jerome had not planned the murder. He had only come to surprise his girlfriend. It happened after a scuffle, or that’s what the evidence states, and a hapless Maria watched her boyfriend stab her lover with a kitchen knife. What happened thereafter no one knows and, as a journalist, I am never 100 per cent convinced by a police version. Post that, urban legend takes over.
So the real issues of outrage are matters of conjecture, not fact. Whether Maria and Jerome had sex in front of the dead body and whether they cut up the corpse into 300 pieces to destroy the evidence appear to me more in the realm of fantasy. There is no evidence for either. The truth is known to three people, one of whom is dead. I believe that such horrific stories are often creations of the police and certain sections of the media out to make every crime look larger than life and thus, every arrest look like an act of sheer genius. The truth is usually far more pedestrian. But no, that never makes for a great story. So everyone tries to pamper us with hyperbole. The police. Newspapers, TV channels. And, finally, movie makers. They all have one agenda: To make a crime look sexier than it is.
Whatever happened is sad. Saddest for the Grover family. We must grieve for them. But we must also protect every individual’s right to a fair trial. Maria has faced court, and more than served out her sentence. Now that she is out, let us give her back the dignity she deserves as a woman who has been held for 3 years and 14 days in one of our worst prisons, with hardened criminals for company. She has to be allowed to regain her life. If we feel the punishment is inadequate, the right place to appeal is a higher Court, exactly as in the Nanavati case. But to hound a young woman, to disallow her from speaking in a press conference, to call her a killer when there’s no evidence to defend that slur, to mock the judgement and make it impossible for her to return to a normal life is unjust. We are a law abiding nation, not a lynch mob.
Jerome is behind bars for 10 years. Maria who helped him destroy evidence has served her term. It’s time we backed off. If you think she deserves more punishment, go file a PIL. But stop harassing a woman who has already paid a steep enough price for her crime.
And what had driven this promising young political aide to take his own life?
RCI provides the answer in the concluding paragraph on its probe (para 232 of RCI Report), which refers to the supposed final stage of the all-night grilling of Teoh in the MACC office on July 15, 2009:
“TBH experienced a change in his state of mind. And in a matter of hours, this change transformed him from being in the low-risk group for suicide into the high-risk group. The doubts, extreme emotional conflict and the immense feeling of guilt were all intolerable. ….. Finding no viable strategies to surmount the hurdle of accusations leveled, he found himself unable to escape from the suffocating quagmire in which he was trapped. Losing all hope, TBH would have felt trapped and succumbed to despair. ……TBH would have found that the only way for escape from the torment he was undergoing was by jumping out of the window, even though it meant taking his own life.”
Judging from the severity of anguish described by RCI, one would have thought Teoh must have been cornered for improprieties over millions of public funds, and now was the moment of reckoning when he had to face the terrible shame of having to dishonour himself, his loved ones, his party and his government.
Not at all the case.
PETTY AND DUBIOUS ALLEGATION
Teoh was in fact only brought in by MACC as a witness to assist in the investigation of an unfounded allegation against his political boss of having abused a mere RM2,400 of public funds – allegedly claiming the money to buy flags that were not delivered.
If you are a novice to the case, you would certainly have expressed shock and disbelief that such a trivial matter could have driven a seasoned political activist to commit suicide. But RCI thinks otherwise, for which they have come up with a host of reasons, the main ones of which are summed up in para 230 of the report, which I quote in full:
“These intense stages of interrogation must have created serious doubts in TBH’s mind as regards his action in relation to his duties as YB Ean’s political secretay. Signing his name but affixing YB Ean’s seal, the absence of at least three quotations before the awarding of a project or programme, the alleged kickbacks to the DAP, the direct awards of projects, and fixing prices to goods required for projects also weighed heavily on his mind.”
RCI has earlier explained in its report that MACC officers had bullied Teoh with all sorts of false accusations of wrong-doings. These included Teoh signing on documents with boss Ean’s rubber stamp (though Teoh was actually blameless as his own name was clearly written on the document, indicating he was signing on behalf of his boss), awarding contracts without calling at least 3 quotations (though this rule was superceded by a new Selangor government directive allowing direct awards for projects under RM20,000, but Teoh apparently was not familiar with these rules).
Other events that had compounded the distress of Teoh, in the opinion of RCI, were the removal of his hand phone to which Teoh was addicted, and the disclosure of the password to his email account, which would have enabled an invasion into his privacy.
TEOH & BOSS’ INTEGRITY INTACT
However, in RCI’s laborious weaving of the picture of gradual doom that was supposedly experienced by Teoh that had eventually reduced him “to almost a mental and physical wreck” (para 229 of the RCI Report), RCI had forgotten the cardinal fact of the case – that the integrity of Teoh and his boss was intact and Teoh was well aware of that. In fact, when Teoh was taken in, he was already familiar with MACC’s witch-hunting against Selangor’s Pakatan leaders that had been going on for some time – it was part of BN’s strategy to destabilize the Selangor state government.
Under the circumstances, even if MACC had succeeded in creating self-doubt in Teoh through the false accusations as outlined in para 230, these are all technical in nature. There was no element of dishonesty, as neither Teoh nor YB Ean had illegally pocketed any money. How is it then that RCI can make the conclusion that such dubious allegation of minor technical misconduct had plunged Teoh into a state of “extreme emotional conflict”, “immense feeling of guilt”, “losing all hope” and “succumbed to despair”?
In reaching these bizarre conclusions, hasn’t RCI made a giant leap in fantasy land?
By all accounts, Teoh was a bright young man of integrity and cheerful disposition, looking forward to his imminent marriage to his lover who was then conceived with his child. Will such a person jump from the 14th floor of the building just because he was unjustly and unfairly interrogated by government officers?
Professor Paul Edward Mullen, Emeritus Professor of Forensic Psychiatry of Monash University, who was brought in by the Bar to prepare a report, seems to have provided the answer when he stated (quoting from para 209 of RCI Report):
“TBH was firmly in the lowest risk group for suicide when he was taken into MACC custody. And if TBH …. did kill himself, things were likely to have occurred both to undermine his psychological stability and to frighten him literally to death. …”
Could Teoh have been frightened to death by the interrogation antics, albeit cruel, waged by MACC officers over such minor and dubious accusations?
Isn’t the answer obvious?
PSYCHIATRIC REPORTS QUOTED OUT OF CONTEXT
On the subject of psychiatrists’ reports, it is regrettable that RCI has resorted to quoting these out of context to make them appear as if these psychiatrists support its postulation of suicide. This is decidedly not the case.
The press release of the Malaysian Bar has quoted from these reports showing that none has supported the suicide theory.
On Professor Mullen’s report, the Malaysian Bar says: “He further opined that the contest of the events that had taken place was not one ‘which in [his] experience, leads to suicide in custody’, as he had not been made aware of anything ‘to explain panic and distress sufficient to drive [Teoh Beng Hock] to conclude his honor had been irreparably tarnished.”
And the joint report of Dr. Badiah Yahya and Dr. Nor Hayati Ali, who were present in the court proceedings and had interviewed people close to Teoh, apart from confirming Teoh’s status as low risk for suicide, states:
“We did not have any evidence on how the investigation was conducted as there were ‘no written questions posted to [Teoh Beng Hock]’ or audio recording as to ascertain the amount of pressure that he experienced. It is not known whether he had experienced in his mind the effects of being possibly prosecuted on the allegations, whether it would have been devastating for him and/or his organization”.
Despite these two psychiatrists’ clear stand that there were no evidence that suggested Teoh’s suicidal move, RCI persisted in using part of these psychiatrists’ observation to buttress its suicide postulation. The psychiatrists observed that Teoh was subjected to emotional stress over these two events prior to his questioning by MACC:
· Teoh had to bring forward his wedding after discovering that his fiancée was pregnant.
· The gathering of documents by MACC from District and Land Office insinuating misappropriation of allocation by his boss YB Ean.
That RCI has to resort to using these two rather tame events to support its conclusion of suicide only exposes that RCI is actually scraping the bottom of the barrel to convince a skeptical public.
Bringing forward a marriage due to unplanned pregnancy is already a common and accepted occurrence in local society and hence, it is not supposed to raise any eyebrow, not to mention causing any emotional crisis.
MACC officers visiting government offices to fish for evidence to incriminate Pakatan leaders has long been recognized as BN’s modus operandi to sabotage the Selangor state government, and should therefore be no big deal to a seasoned politician like Teoh.
SPINNIG SUICIDE WILL DAMAGE BN MORE
However, despite RCI’s unconvincing attempt to spin a suicide, it has nevertheless done a good job in exposing the deplorable state of lawlessness and abuse prevailing in MACC, which, like almost all other institutions, have been depraved through the long reign of a corrupted political leadership.
If only RCI has applied the same measure of honesty on the cause of Teoh’s death, as it has done in criticizing MACC’s mismanagement, it would have done its political masters a great favour, as nothing will reassure the electorate more than the moral courage to own up an ugly truth.
As it turned out, Teoh Beng Hock in his death, will continue to take his pound of flesh from the political masters who were ultimately responsible for his tragic death.