By INS Contributors

KUALA LUMPUR,Malaysia--Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) chief Azam Baki has issued a letter of demand to independent investigative journalist Lalitha Kunaratnam over two damning articles concerning the latter’s  “excessive” assets and involvement in a private investigation company.

Lalitha has been asked to issue a public apology within 14 days, delete the articles published on INS and pay 10 million ringgit (about US 2.5 million) in damages for tarnishing his reputation, failing which he will initiate legal proceedings for defamation.

This appalling action against a member of the press, follows a poorly scripted press conference on Jan. 5 where Azam claimed he had allowed his brother to use his share trading account to buy millions of shares in two public-listed companies in 2015.

The reports, first published in October last year, were followed by a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDOS) on INS which crippled its operations for over two weeks, but the resignation of Edmund Terence Gomez, a well known and respected academic and economist, from the Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel of the MACC brought the issue to the public’s attention in a dramatic fashion.

“Wonky internet, poor communication”

The press conference, held at the MACC's Putrajaya headquarters was also attended by Anti-Corruption Advisory Board (LPPR) chairman Abu Zahar Ujang and Another advisor, Hamzah Kassim, with the former claiming he had not received emails while the latter blamed the problematic office intranet, where emails at times do not go through, according to local portal The Vibes.

Azam himself seemed unperturbed by the reports, instead threatening action against whistle-blowers during the press conference and defended his actions claiming his younger brother used his trading account to purchase some shares. and he had consented to it.

“I explained to the panel that my trading account was used by my brother for his shares tradings and I have no interest nor have any part in this. The shares were bought in the open market and my brother had financed the purchases on his own.

“The shares of the companies which he purchased were not involved in any investigations carried out by the MACC. All the shares had been transferred to my brother's own trading account,” Azam claimed.

Proxy stock trading by Azam

Opposition member of parliament (MP) Lim Lip Eng, who is also a lawyer by profession, said Azam’s admission only raises further questions and cited Section 25 (6) of Securities Industry (Central Depositories) Act or SICDA, in a statement.

He pointed out that subsections(1), (2) and (5) Section 25(6) of the Act clear states that no trading of securities shall be carried out using the trading account of another person, unless he or she is an authorised depository agent who has opened and maintained a securities account with the central depository.

Lim also said Section 25A also states that an authorised nominee shall hold deposited securities for one beneficial owner in respect of each securities account.

He added that subsection (3) of the same law states that anyone who breaches it is guilty of an offence and those convicted of contravening subsections (1), (2) or (5) can be punished with a maximum fine of 3 million ringgit (about US 720,000), up to 10 years in jail, or both.

Lim cited a case back in May 2011, which he said was similar to Azmi’s current situation. He said the SC compounded a woman for allowing another person to use her central depository system account to trade in shares in May 2007.

Shocking threat against whistle-blower

Gomez, who is pushing for greater scrutiny on the issue, called the move by Azam to threaten a whistle-blower “shocking and appalling” urging Azam to withdraw his threat of legal action.

“I am shocked, even appalled, that this whistle-blower, who raised legitimate questions of national interest, is now being sued by Azam. What Azam should be doing is publicly disclosing all his business interests in order to protect the image and integrity of the MACC.  

“By sending this letter of demand to the whistle-blower, what is now occurring is nothing more than serious intimidation by Azam.  If whistle-blowers are threatened in this way by those in a position of power, long a trend we have seen in Malaysia, how can we make any progress to get citizens to expose corruption and protect them from doing so,” he said in a statement.

Bi-partisan calls for MACC boss to go on leave

A supreme council member of the powerful and influential United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Puad Zarkashi urged Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to form a special task force to investigate allegations against Azam on his corporate share ownership.

He said the task force should be independent, transparent, and have proper terms of reference to investigate the matter comprehensively, according to local news portal FMT.

Ahmad Fadhli Shaari, Youth Chief from the Islamist party PAS, which forms the government along with UMNO, urged Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to put a top Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officer, presumeably Azam, on garden leave in light of the allegations made against him recently.

“This is to ensure transparency in investigations as well as to prove the seriousness of the government in upholding the rule of law.”

He added that the allegations are seen to have affected the credibility and commitment of the government’s measures in fighting corruption and strengthening integrity.

Similar calls have been made from several other political parties, from both the government and opposition side, with multiple police reports being lodged over the issue including by Putra and the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Even the otherwise timid Gerakan has ridiculed Azam’s explanation, with its deputy president Oh Tong Keong saying:

“In fact, the issue led to further controversy. According to reports, Azam explained that his brother had borrowed his shares account to buy shares. This explanation cannot be accepted or believed by a three-year-old boy, let alone Gerakan.

“As such, we urge the prime minister to take firm and appropriate action against Azam, including considering the replacement of the MACC chief commissioner, to win the people's confidence,” he said in a statement.

Putra, for its part, is also going to submit a memorandum to the country’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, to request that Azam be placed on leave pending the outcome of investigations.