Consequences of Teoh Beng Hock’s Case

Khoo Kay Peng

How often does a Coroner’s Court deliver an open verdict on an inquest? The answer is not very often. But this was what happened to the controversial Teoh Beng Hock’s sudden death case.

Earlier there were attempts and allegations that Teoh had taken his life because he regretted turning over his boss, a Selangor Dap State Exco, on allegations of corruption. Teoh was even accused of being involved in a minor corruption case which involved a sum of no more than RM2,400.

Mysteriously, a note which was claimed to be a suicide note surfaced towards the end of the inquest after it was held in MACC’s custody for several months.

I was asked by reporters a day on the possible reactions before the coroner delivered his verdict. I said it would be disastrous for MACC, the government and the court if Teoh’s case was ruled as a suicide because of a lack of hard evidence.

Moreover, Teoh’s fiancee was expecting his baby and he was supposed to get married the following week. Teoh was only a witness and not a suspect of an alleged corruption case. These facts cannot conclusively confirm that it was a suicide. Hence, ruling it a suicide would tarnish even more the already suspected reputable of the public institutions.

On the other hand, I said that it would be equally bad and damaging for the government if the coroner ruled it a murder or homicide. It is hard to take the politics out of Teoh’s case. There were political elements and interests involved in the corruption reports which ended up in an investigation, interrogation and his untimely death.

If it was ruled as a murder or homicide, the implications are wide and deep. The police will have to investigate right up to the ones giving instruction to the MACC to haul up Teoh, the motive and the culprits. The MACC’s investigation procedure would have to be reviewed once again and it is safe to assume that it will be become one of the most unpopular public institutions in the country.

The stake is high. If any MACC officers were eventually brought to justice, which public institution or officers would allow the collusion between ruling politicians and civil servants to continue without any protection against prosecution?

The claim that this government does not manipulate any public institution to its benefit and advantage is becoming quite lame and unconvincing. Imagine the use of police force to break up opposition political gatherings but keeping closed eyes on Barisan or pro-Barisan gatherings, questionable judicial verdict, controversial decision by Election Commission to ignore vote buying and others.

The continuation of the manipulation may give Barisan short-to-medium term advantage but it is also eroding its legitimacy to lead as a popularly elected government. It cannot continue hoping to win elections through constituency delineation, postal votes and sectarianism.