Thursday, July 30, 2009

Teoh's inquest postponed to Aug 5 (Updated)


SHAH ALAM: The inquest into the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock at the Magistrates Court here has been postponed to Aug 5 at the request of lawyers representing the family, the Selangor Government and the Bar Council.

Coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas granted the request after hearing arguments from Gobind Singh Deo who had said that the lawyers needed time to study all relevant documents, as well to grant the Malaysian Government time to consider the family’s request that a Royal Commission of Inquiry be established to investigate the death.

Azmil Muntapha had earlier granted lawyers appointed by the family and the Selangor Government “interested party” status, allowing them to question witnesses during the inquest, which was expected to last 15 days.

The Bar Council had also led a team to hold a watching brief and who requested “interested party” status.

Tan Hock Chuan, acting for the Attorney-General, said he had no objections regarding the first two groups but said the lawyers holding a watching brief for the Bar Council did not fall within the applicable provisions to be granted such a status.

The Bar Council lawyers, led by Hisyam Teh, told coroner Azmil Muntapha that there may be questions that they would want to ask the witnesses and assured him that all these questions would be relevant.

Coroner Azmil Muntapha, who is also the Shah Alam High Court deputy registrar, finally allowed them to participate, and to question witnesses.

Teoh, 30, was found dead on July 16 at Plaza Masalam the morning after he was interviewed for 10 hours by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which has its state office on the 14th floor of the building.

Teoh, who is the political secretary to Selangor exco member Ean Yong Hian Wah, was reported to be a witness in the investigation into the alleged abuse of constituency development funds by several Selangor Pakatan Rakyat state assemblymen.

Reports had said that Teoh was released after his statement was recorded, but had asked to sleep on the sofa at the office. His death was believed to have taken place between 6am and 8am on July 16.

The inquest is on despite many quarters questioning its effectiveness and calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry instead to determine the cause of Teoh’s death.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced the inquest to probe his death and a Royal Commission to look into the MACC’s investigation and questioning procedures with regard to Teoh.

Holding a watching brief for the family at the inquest are Gobind, Sankara Nair, Lim Lip Eng and Karpal Singh (who was not present in court Wednesday).

Acting for the Selangor Government are Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Ashok Kandiah, Sreekanth Pillai and Asmah Yunos.

Acting for the Attorney-General are Tan, Mohd Idham Abd Ghani, Cains Tan and Justin Wee.

Earlier, Gobind said that Teoh’s family was participating in the inquest under protest.

He asked for a postponement on the grounds that the family, at a meeting with Najib on Tuesday, had appealed to the Prime Minister to set up the Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate Teoh’s death.

He said that the Cabinet will hold its weekly meeting later Wednesday, and if it decided to accede to the family’s request, the inquest would be redundant since the Royal Commission would have a wider scope of powers to determine what had led to the death.

He also said that the lawyers acting for the family and the Selangor Government had not been given the relevant documents which included the pathologists’ reports.

He said they would also need time to study the post-mortem DNA report, and asked why the Government is in “such a hurry.”

The Attorney-General’s team however argued that as this was an inquest and not a trial, it is not obliged to share these documents under the law.

However, Tan, who was leading the team, said the state was willing to furnish all documents, except witnesses’ statements.

A total of 80 witnesses are expected to be called to tesitify in the inquest, according to police records, at least 28 of them MACC officers. More than 60 witnesses were registered outside the witness waiting room at the Magistrates Court on Wednesday morning.

Also subpoenaed is Teoh’s fiancee Soh Cher Wei, who confirmed that she was called to appear before the inquest.

Other key witnesses expected to be called are the three pathologists from University Malaya Medical Centre and Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital and three chemists who handled Teoh’s case.

Journalists had started gathering outside the courtroom at 7.30am on Wednesday, and by 8.20am, Teoh’s family arrived.

Among those attendinjg the inquest on Wednesday were DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, Kota Alam Shah assemblyman M. Manoharan who has also been listed as a witness, state executive councillor Dr Xavier Jeyakumar and Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan.

Lim had earlier asked why the Attorney-General’s team was being led by Tan, a criminal lawyer, and not a deputy public prosecutor.

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