The Pandora’s box of corruption busting

Is there anything to be gained by the public from investigations into corporate deals entered into decades ago?

Walter Sandosham, Free Malaysia Today

The recent seizure of an office tower block located in the city and owned by an ex-senior minister, who is also a prominent corporate figure, has raised eyebrows.

The MACC’s seizure of the said property appears, from media reports, to be linked to revelations contained in the Pandora Papers on stashes of monetary assets held at offshore centres. Purportedly, some of it may be ill-gotten.

In February 2023, it was reported that several individuals named in the papers were being investigated for allegations of power abuse, corruption and misappropriation of funds.

Ironically the person currently under investigation in relation to the seizure was a member of the Council of Eminent Persons set up in the wake of the unexpected change of government in 2018.

The events post 2018 were all hyped as being “to save Malaysia from the scourge of corruption” which had permeated into the system. What happened there? A genuine oversight on appointments, or was it a conscious effort taking into account all facts?

The investigation appears to be an afterthought given the changes in the political environment, with focus now on different personalities. It would not be out of order to also investigate other tycoons. How was such wealth amassed – lady luck, patronage, right place at the right time, or genuine effort?

What is even more confusing to the man on the street, many of whom abhor corruption or any manifestation of it, is the investigation into a corporate deal consummated over two decades ago between two corporate entities based on decisions and resolutions adopted by their own respective boards of directors. The records may not even exist! Resurrection of concern?

Are we now suddenly realising after all these years that some corporate deals could have been “shady” – perceived corruption perpetrated by politicians from a then powerful political party?

One must remember that part of the efforts to redistribute wealth was to create a coterie of super rich people from a particular race in the country. Ostensibly as part of the political game, as often played out even in other countries, those close to the ruling political party inevitably benefit, in one way or another, from government or government linked contracts.

Hence the term, cronyism which was something the 2018 elections was meant to eradicate. However, it appears to continue to this day in many shapes and forms, including, but not limited to, lucrative positions in GLCs. This is the old norm revisited!

Surely amassing wealth, for example, from public listings, in which one had significant holdings of shares, or the mere appreciation in value of assets, landed or otherwise, if gained in the normal course of business, cannot be deemed corruption.

Is there a “predicate offence” here which is still under wraps?

Chinese immigrants who migrated in the early 20th century astutely and intelligently purchased large tracts of agricultural land and other properties in strategic areas. Following the economic boom of the country, these assets brought in truckloads of money which were further invested into income generating assets. That is what the free market is all about and should not be interpreted as corruption!

Either way, this seizure of assets has set tongues wagging. As a past member of one of the oversight panels established pursuant to the MACC Act 2009, I find current developments rather intriguing, not to mention embarrassing, as there was nary a whisper for all these years!

This follows on the heels of comments by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat in relation to an investigation and subsequent report prepared by the MACC on a High Court judge last year. Her comments on “protocol” and “lack of good faith” are not helpful.

Recently there has been backtracking by the MACC as lawyers would not cave in at the first instance to their requests for information in relation to the affairs of their clients.

It appears, perception wise, that all is not right in the current landscape in relation to corruption busting.

At the end of the day is there anything to be gained, for the public at large in this latest foray on purported abuse of power on some corporate deals entered and culminated decades ago, and the attempt to relate it to the “amassing of wealth” (which incidentally is not in contradiction with the Federal Constitution)?

Surely it is water under the bridge. In investigating it further, one can only fervently hope that the MACC is not dragged into the quagmire of murky terrains from which it may not be able to extricate itself with its dignity and credibility still intact.

The MACC Act 2009 may then have to be rewritten to reassure the public.

Walter Sandosham is a former MACC oversight panel member and an FMT reader.