Rafizi Ramli’s lawyers abuse Attorney General and Bank Negara Malaysia

Fabiani Azmi 

A few weeks ago the law firm of Shafee & Co issued a few media statements, one of which was to welcome the Attorney General’s remarks, “The investigation did not reveal criminal breaches as far as the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry (MOA) is concerned” and the other to plead with the Attorney General and Bank Negara Malaysia to stand firmly rooted in the ground on the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (BAFIA) charges levied against Rafizi Ramli.

These statements were issued to provide audiences a clearer picture of how Rafizi’s lies, misrepresentations and distortions in the NFC issue had abused BAFIA. The defendant’s lawyers then emerged to speak up against Shafee & Co saying the BAFIA request was “self-serving and preposterous.” In their zeal, they went on to say a lot more. In the process, N Surendran and Latheefa Koya abused the Attorney General and Bank Negara Malaysia with their remarks. Blogger journo Fabiani Azmi examines the arguments.

In the last 12 months, the opposition led by PKR Strategy Director Rafizi Ramli had been spewing statements on the project National Feedlot Centre (NFC), the company National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (NFCorp), and Wanita UMNO chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and her family.

Rafizi had taken advantage of the social media platform to create a political ruckus to sway public opinion in his favour. Rafizi had broken laws, lied, misrepresented and distorted to rope in the support for his political agenda and that of his master.

To correct misperceptions by the general public, law firm Shafee & Co decided to offer its opinion on the Internet news portals as well.

The learned Datuk Seri Dr Shafee Abdullah said, “Under the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010, a bona fide and a genuine whistleblower should report anything he thinks bordering on criminality or other wrongs first to the appropriate authorities, to allow for them to take action. By doing so this way, we have a situation where there is a bona fide whistleblower and the integrity of BAFIA would be protected.

“However, if a whistleblower is allowed to just announce in public protected materials under BAFIA without first resorting to the proper agencies, we would be courting chaos in our financial system.”

Datuk Seri Dr Shafee added, “BAFIA is a statutory protection provided by Bank Negara Malaysia to customers of all banks. If BAFIA is allowed to be breached under the pretext of whistle blowing, the very stratum of banking collapses.”

However, lawyers N Surendran and Latheefa Koya who both represent Rafizi, told Datuk Seri Dr Shafee that it was because of the PKR strategy director’s exposes that the firm’s client NFCorp had found itself hauled to court.

They said in a Malaysian Insider report, “The charges should be withdrawn as Rafizi had acted on public interest when he exposed the NFCorp’s financial documents in public, even though his actions had violated the country’s banking confidentiality laws.”

Another news portal MalaysiaKini quoted Rafizi’s lawyers saying, “Abdul Gani should exercise his discretion by not charging Rafizi’s ‘brave and honourable act’ which benefited the public.

However, Shafee & Co argued that the 21 bank accounts exposed by Rafizi were nothing extraordinary to show any wrongdoing or were of any public benefit. Rafizi had done a dishonorable act violating BAFIA which did not benefit anyone but had brought great concern and worry to a highly regarded banking and financial system. Rafizi had lied, misrepresented and distorted the bank documents to allude that loans were taken for eight KL Eco City office lots.

In Rafizi’s effort to melodramatise his accusations, the bank documents that he had illegally obtained breached the provisions of BAFIA under Section 97(1). Rafizi obtained the bank documents without the permission of the account holders, the bank nor the permission of Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the governing regulatory body.

BNM Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz told Bernama at the height of the breach, “The confidentiality of customer information is clearly protected by the Banking and Financial Institution Act 1989.”  She pointed out that it was an offence under the Act for any officer of the bank to disclose any information relating to the account of its customer, and banks have in place control and effective processes to ensure compliance with this secrecy provision.

Zeti added that it was only when there is a suspected offence under federal law or if there is a court order or where a customer has given consent, that relevant law enforcement agencies are authorised under the law to obtain information. This information must be obtained through BNM, and if the central bank says there is no foundation for it, the information will not be given.

“Shafee & Co needs to understand that the BAFIA was never intended to be used to conceal or prevent the exposure of criminal acts,” said Rafizi’s lawyers

But were there any wrong doings in those bank documents that Rafizi distributed to the media? It would appear that BNM and the Attorney General absolutely do not think so. That’s why they did a dawn raid on Rafizi on 1 August, and had him arrested and charged.

We are told no loans were ever taken by NFCorp or its directors for the KL Eco City properties which Rafizi announced at a news conference to suggest there was such a case. In fact, the personal bank loan documents given by Rafizi to the media went as far back as 2005, years before NFCorp was established and 2008, years before KL Eco City properties were even launched for sale in 2011.

On that premise, Rafizi had not only breached BAFIA, he even breached the Evidence Act where banking information not connected to NFCorp had been presented to allude to wrongdoing. He lied, misrepresented and distorted his evidence.

The debate heats up as audiences await if Rafizi would go to trial. Arguments abound aplenty.  Who does the average bloke believe from the debate running wild and wanton on the Internet landscape?

As founder of MARAH Dave Avran once expressed in Free Malaysia Today, “Clearly, there is manipulation of social media channels to form public opinion. Whilst Malaysians are quick in assuming that there are always hidden hands in every picture, we are also quick to judge on issues.

“Have we had all the complete facts of the case to mull over and evaluate before commenting?”

Looking at the comments section of some of the Internet news portals would have us think not. Almost every outpouring comment for Rafizi is not based on researched facts but riled and emotional sentiments. The facts have yet to be presented in court. The AG would be well armed and Malaysians would know the truth at a trial.

On a public relations note, Rafizi’s lawyers have dug a deeper hole for Rafizi in this debate when Surendran and Latheefa went on to say, “The A-G and the central bank had instead ‘disgraced themselves’ for using BAFIA on Rafizi, adding that the young politician was likely only charged as his exposes on the NFC had embarassed and ‘politically damaged’ UMNO and BN.”

“Do they seriously suggest that the UMNO or BN government would have taken any action against NFC in the absence of the public pressure created by Rafizi’s revelations of the banking transactions?” they asked.

A bit out-of-line against the BNM, the AG and the ruling parties, would you not say? Rafizi’s lawyers would need to look at the bank documents and check if there was any wrongdoing unearthed from Rafizi’s revelations of the banking transactions.

“Obviously Rafizi’s lawyers have misplaced their decorum. These are not the kind of statements to express insults against the BNM and AG on the Internet platform. It’s tantamount to waging open war in the media.

Malaysia’s well-respected banking and financial systems should not be compromised whatsoever for political dramas and sensationalism. This is not only our view but that of the chief executives of many banks as well as the chairman of the Association of Banks in Malaysia who came out in media news reports to emphasise that client confidentiality or secrecy must be upheld at all cost, said Datuk Seri Dr Shafee.

Rafizi has been charged under Section 97(1) of the BAFIA, for allegedly disclosing customer account profiles detailing the balance summaries of NFCorp, the National Meat and Livestock Corporation Sdn Bhd, Agroscience and Industries Sdn Bhd and NFCorp chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail.

BAFIA’s Section 103(1)(a) would also cause Rafizi to be fined a maximum of RM3 million and jailed up to three years if found guilty. This would seriously stumble Rafizi’s chances of standing as a candidate in the 13th general election that must be held by April next year.


About the Writer

Fabiani Azmi is an avid reader of Malaysia Today, intelligent mainstream newspapers and Internet news portals. When not reading, he also enjoys the company of sapiosexuals. It’s a highly stimulating discovery for him.

Follow Fabiani Azmi at @FabAz88.