KUALA LUMPUR: Thai forensic pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand, a central witness whose testimony supported a homicide theory in Teoh Beng Hock’s death, was not listed in the witness list of the Royal Commission of Inquiry investigating Teoh’s death.
“We are supposed to have an independent investigation. The first name on the list should have been Dr Pornthip,” said Gobind Singh, lawyer for the Teoh family.
He added that it was important to have the Thai expert as a witness as it was she who had produced evidence to indicate pre-fall injuries on Teoh during the inquest.
Gobind also objected to the use of officers from the Attorney-General’s Chambers as conducting officers at the inquiry, stating that he doubted the independence of these officers.
However commission chairman James Foong, who ruled that these conducting officers would be
retained for the inquiry, assured Gobind that the inquiry will be fair and will decide to call in Pornthip if it was necessary.
“This proceeding is open and members of the public can write to us.The conducting officers are just here to assist. If need be, we will call her (Pornthip).
“Our reputations are are stake, I’m not here with 20 over years on the bench just to sit down and do nothing. I would go down and investigate as all of us here.
“We are aware that the conducting officers are from the AG’s Chambers and they have assured us that they will act independently,” said Foong, adding that the officers were necessary to provide check and balance in the court and can be removed if their impartiality is in doubt.
‘We don’t represent the AG’
Gobind had earlier objected to the conducting officers as they were from the AG’s Chambers. He said that it was more suitable to have independent persons to conduct and direct the inquiry.
“Firstly they had taken a position in pushing for a suicide verdict, so how can their officers be independent? And secondly we are planning to question their conduct during the inquest. Therefore a conflict of interest is there,” said Gobind.
Both Bar Council representative Christopher Leong and Selangor government lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar agreed with Gobind that there were elements that constitute conflict of interest.
Defending his position, conducting officer senior federal counsel Amarjeet Singh said that though they were officers from the AG’s office, they did not represent him.
The others conducting officers are deputy public prosecutors Awang Armadajaya Awang Mahmud and Kwan Li Sa.
“We don’t represent him (AG). Our position as conducting officers are made by the King. For the three months of the inquiry, we are relieved of our duties from the chambers. It was alleged that we are biased but it was not us who investigated the case, it was the police,” said Amarjeet.
Meanwhile, Foong also ruled that the inquiry will go on despite a pending revision at the High Court.
“The revision will not impede our proceedings. Until there is an injunction or an order from the High Court, we will continue with our inquiry,” he said.
Application to review filed
Following the ruling, Gobind informed the court that an application for a judicial review to overrule the two decisions will be filed soon. It is understood that an order to stay the inquiry will also be sought for from the High Court.
Earlier, Gobind questioned whether the inquiry would include new investigations or would it merely re-use facts from the inquest, which had returned an open verdict.
“Before the inquest, we had no evidence. But after a year the coroner found that there was indeed pre-fall injuries.
“I want to know, Mr Chairman, if the commission has done any investigations on those injuries. If not, what’s going to happen is the same as the inquest, or even the revision,” said Gobind.
He further asked if any statements were taken or arrests made. Foong said that independent investigators would be sought by the court to assist in finding out its terms of reference.
Earlier, parties seeking representation, including Teoh’s family, the Selangor government, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Bar Council, in the inquiry were allowed to do so by the panel.
Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail is seeking a review of the coroner’s ruling. On Jan 5, coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas delivered an open verdict, saying that Teoh’s death was neither suicide nor homicide.
Present today at the packed courtroom were Teoh’s family members, media, and supporters of Teoh, including PKR leader Tian Chua and Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan.
Representing MACC were Masri Mohd Daud and Mohammed Heikal Ismail but they said a private lawyer will be engaged to represent MACC later.
Representing Bar Council is Christopher Leong, Nahendran Navaratnam, S Sivaneindriren and Choew Wee.
Terms of reference
Last month, Federal Court judge Foong was appointed to head the commission to look into the cause of Teoh’s death and the MACC interrogation procedures.
The commission’s terms of reference are:
- To look into whether there was any impropriety in the conduct of the examination of Teoh in the course of an investigation into a Shah Alam report by the MACC, in relation to its standing orders and practices, and to recommend any appropriate action, where necessary; and,
- To enquire into Teoh’s death and the circumstances surrounding and contributing to his death.
The other four members of the commission are former federal judge Abdul Kadir Sulaiman, ex-Court of Appeal judge T Selventhiranathan, Penang Hospital’s senior consultant in forensic pathology Bhupinder Singh and Cyberjaya University College of Medical Science’s dean and consultant forensic psychiatrist Prof Dr Mohamed Hatta Shaharom.
The inquiry is scheduled to end on April 25 and the final report handed over to Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin. The King will then decide the next course of action.
Teoh, the DAP political aide to Selangor executive councillor and Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah, was found dead on July 16, 2009, on the fifth floor of Plaza Masalam. Teoh, then 30, died hours after he was interrogated overnight by the MACC at the Selangor MACC office located on the 14th floor of the same building.
He was a witness in the alleged misuse of Selangor government allocations.