On 8 January 2020, at a press conference, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) released nine secretly recorded telephone conversations.
The recordings were purportedly conversations between high-ranking government officials including ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak and even a member of royalty from the Middle East about a probe into the 1MDB financial scandal.
MACC chief commissioner Latheefa Koya said the MACC resorted to this action as the conversations were of immense public interest involving alleged abuse of power, criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice and possibly the compromising of national security. The MACC was apparently concerned that without this public disclosure, important information might remain concealed.
Soon after the MACC’s disclosure, certain lawyers and concerned groups reacted unfavourably to the release of the recordings. They felt the expose was improper and could amount to sub judice or contempt of court and lead to trial by media (though this may no longer apply with the abolition of jury trials).
Then there is the whole question of intrusion of privacy through tapping of phone conversations and whether this is constitutional. This must be dealt with in due course.
We note all these legal, procedural and ethical concerns and recognise the possible invasion of privacy.
But the extraordinary circumstances deserve consideration. This was no trivial or salacious matter. The previous kleptocratic government was embroiled in what was internationally regarded as one of the world’s largest financial scandals (if not the largest), adding to the country’s serious debt. The recordings released by the MACC provide valuable background context to some of the manoeuvring that was going on behind the scenes and the personalities involved.
Considering the gravity of the circumstances, the public interest and the pursuit of truth and accountability might be better served through the release of the recordings, overriding the other concerns mentioned.
The public have a right to demand that leaders – even those in the highest echelons of power – who abuse their power should be made to account for their actions.
Aliran executive committee
17 January 2020