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Mahath1r caught in legal bind
By web aNtu

14/6/2000 10:46 pm Wed


JUN 14, 2000 Mahathir caught in legal and political bind

Upon his return from Japan, the feisty Malaysian PM has to deal with a spat between a judge and a minister, and allegations of interference in a probe


KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned home from Japan yesterday and was met on arrival by two potentially embarra#sing legal and political landmines.

While he was away on a week-long working trip, there has been a spat between one of his ministers and the country's top judge over the need for rejuvenation in the judiciary and an accusation by the former head of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) that he obstructed a corruption probe into a former civil servant.

In short, a headache.

On his return, he tackled the question of Chief Justice Eusoff Chin's fitness for office.

Over the past week, there has been verbal jousting between the top judge and the country's de facto Law Minister, Datuk Rais Yatim, over comments the latter made during an interview with Australia's ABC radio.

The minister said that there was a need for rejuvenation in the judiciary and suggested that the government had reprimanded the Chief Justice for going on a holiday to New Zealand in 1994 with Datuk V.K. Lingam, a lawyer.

But Justice Eusoff denied being admonished by anyone over the trip and said that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the ACA and Bar Council.

The judge, who is due to retire soon, also threatened to sue anyone who implied that his holiday to New Zealand had been paid for by the lawyer.

To settle the matter, the Bar Council wants the government to set up a tribunal to investigate circumstances surrounding the trip.

Pending a decision from the tribunal, it wants the top judge to be suspended.

Dr Mahathir was not in any mood to entertain the request.

He said he smelt a political motive behind the council's proposal.

""I think there is an ill-intention to pit the government against the judge so that when the judge is angry, they hope the judge will make a decision detrimental to the government.''

The Malaysian leader noted that when the government convened a tribunal in 1988 to remove the former head of the judiciary, lawyers condemned him.

But now,the lawyers were ready to move against another judge, he added.

His comments will find no favour with lawyers, or even some members of his administration, who feel that an investigation into the affair will exhibit the government's willingness to be transparent.

A more intractable problem for Dr Mahathir is the allegation that he ordered a shutdown of an investigation into Tan Sri Ali Abul Ha#san, the former director-general of the Economic Planning Unit.

The disclosure was made by Datuk Shafie Yahya, the former ACA chief, during the s###my trial of Anwar Ibrahim. He said that his officers found large sums of money in Tan Sri Ali's office.

Predictably, the opposition has latched onto the issue, wondering why the Dr Mahathir appointed an officer, who was suspected of graft, as the central bank governor.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar, the deputy president of Parti Keadilan Nasional said yesterday that since Anwar was charged in court with interfering in an investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct, the Malaysian Prime Minister must also be brought before the court for stopping the probe.

The opposition wants Dr Mahathir to clear the air but in the meantime, they are scoring points by resurrecting old allegations of corruption and obstruction of power against his administration.

Democratic Action Party's Lim Kit Siang noted: ""Shafie's testimony has strengthened the credibility of the four police reports by Anwar naming names in high government places about corruption, gross abuses of power and selective prosecution but on which the authorities sat on without taking any action.''