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Riza’s discharge: Could the judge have ordered a trial?

Riza Aziz - Photo: Alex Berliner/ABImages/Wikipedia

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Clearly, there were grounds for the charges, and there was sufficient evidence accumulated, P Ramakrishnan writes.

The layman in me is terribly troubled and greatly upset at the way the money-laundering cases – five in all – have turned out.

I am thoroughly confused! I just can’t get over the fact that a criminal could go free keeping part of the loot! To add salt to the wound, his lawyer even allegedly proclaimed that Riza was innocent.

For heaven’s sake, this is a criminal case. A crime is a crime.

But we are told by the lead prosecutor, Gopal Sri Ram, that if Riza fulfils the terms of the plea bargain, “then appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that the accused obtains a full acquittal.”

What is a full acquittal?

It means a defendant is not guilty of a crime as charged. Once the acquittal is reached, the defendant may not be prosecuted again for the same criminal act or transaction.

“Not guilty” and “acquittal” are synonymous.

In other words, it means that Rizal did not commit any crime and therefore he is not guilty.

Then why was he charged in the first place? Does it mean he was wrongly charged? But then, he was charged on five counts. How can the Attorney General’s Chambers charge a person without thoroughly investigating the case? Has the attorney general erred in charging him?

Following in the footsteps of Riza’s settlement, what if Jho Low now comes forward and volunteers to surrender part of his loot, will he be acquitted? We don’t have to waste time trying to trace him or seek Interpol’s assistance to arrest him. Can he go free just like Riza? That might tempt him to come out of hiding!

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Wait a minute, there is one snag in Jho Low’e case. His father wasn’t the prime minister of Malaysia!

Or take another criminal case. Supposing a criminal who has abducted a girl comes forward and seeks a plea bargain to set the girl free, can he go free? Will he be similarly acquitted? Shouldn’t the law apply to all fairly and squarely?

The lay person’s understanding is this: before the case goes to court, the attorney general is absolutely in charge. He is the one who decides whether there is a case to be charged in court. If he is fully satisfied and convinced there is a case to be answered, he refers the case to court for a trial.

But once the case is with the court, the lay person’s understanding is that the court is in control. The court can decide whether there are sufficient grounds for a case to be withdrawn. If the case is serious enough to go for trial, the judge can refuse the withdrawal or dropping of the case and order the case to go for trial.

Likewise, couldn’t the judge in Riza’s case have ordered Riza to stand trial? Clearly, there were grounds for the charges, and there was sufficient evidence accumulated by the Attorney General’s Chambers for the charges.

Those of us who are dissatisfied with the way Riza was allowed to go free, those of us who are outraged by what has happened – we must stand up and make known our utter disappointment and frustration.

Let’s remember, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

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