Muhyiddin’s acquittal — rarest of rare cases?

It is submitted that as a general rule the accusation that the criminal charges framed by the prosecution are infected by elements of bad faith may only take place in the rarest of rare cases!

Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, former member of Parliament for Sepang

(The Edge) – In March this year, former prime minister of Malaysia cum president of Bersatu Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was slapped with six criminal charges before the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur.

Out of those six charges, two counts entailed allegations that he had received RM195 million funds that are proceeds from unlawful activities between Feb 25 and July 16, 2021, and Feb 8 and July 8 last year.

The charges were framed under Section 4(1)(b) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLA).

The remaining four charges, on the other hand, involved allegations that he had used his position as the prime minister and Bersatu president to ask for RM200 million, purportedly as a bribe, from Bukhary Equity Sdn Bhd at the Prime Minister’s Department Complex, Federal Government Administrative Centre, Putrajaya between Feb 8 and 25, 2021.

He pleaded not guilty to all the six aforementioned indictments. Via his lawyers, Muhyiddin filed a motion asking the court to dismiss all the six charges preferred against him on the ground, inter alia (among others), that the charges were defective and in turn vitiated by mala fide, or bad faith, on the part of the prosecution.

And the learned High Court judge concurred with his lawyers, and hence granted Muhyiddin a full verdict of acquittal. By granting such a startling verdict — at least in my view — it seems that Muhyiddin was actually freed as if after the court had duly heard all the evidence presented before it in a full-fledged trial. But, as we know, the trial had not even commenced yet.

Legally speaking, in my view, the judge has, nevertheless, full discretion to render such a verdict. With due respect to the prosecution, I am unable to detect any legal error despite the fact such a verdict may seem to be extremely rare. And more often than not, such a decision is only granted in exceptional cases. Perhaps the trial judge considered that Muhyiddin’s case fell into that category.

Generally speaking, and based on my little experience as a former practising criminal lawyer, in cases pertaining to defective charges, the court would be invariably inclined to allow the prosecution to amend any defective charges and pending such an amendment, the court would only give an order of discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) to an accused person.

This is because amendment to criminal charges may be made at any stage of the trial. Even a judge has the power to amend the charges in certain circumstances. Ergo ordering any accused person to be fully freed and acquitted on the ground of defective charges is rather drastic measure. As far as I know, the court seldom invokes such a drastic power.

After all, the trial in Muhyiddin’s case has not even started in the sense that no evidence had been adduced.

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