Monday, August 17, 2009

Pathologist under fire for DNA contamination theory

By Debra Chong

SHAH ALAM, Aug 17 — The government pathologist who last week suggested Teoh Beng Hock committed suicide came under fire from lawyers again today over his insistence that crucial DNA material to the inquest was contaminated on the autopsy table.

Dr Khairul Aznam Ibrahim, who had carried out the autopsy on the DAP political aide the day after he was found dead, had earlier testified that the unknown DNA profiles of at least two men found on Teoh's coat and belt were highly likely the result of “contamination” of the autopsy table at the Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah (HTAR) in Klang near here.

The lawyer for the Selangor government, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, seemed to find the senior medical forensic expert's theory incredulous, especially after the latter told the coroner's court today that he had was not even in the room when Teoh's clothes were removed.

He quizzed Dr Khairul if the hospital attendants who did it wore gloves.

Dr Khairul said they did.

Puzzled, Malik asked the pathologist to explain how the contamination could then have taken place.

“During removal, the plastic was taken out. During that process, it might have happened,” Dr Khairul replied, adding that the attendants could have placed the clothes on a contaminated table while photographing one by one the items removed from Teoh's body.

The lawyer did not buy the pathologist's theory and kept pressing him for certainty, referring him to a photograph of the belt, which showed it coiled and standing upright on its edges without the flat part, where swabs were later taken, touching the surface of the table.

Malik: You're not sure there was contamination?

Dr Khairul: I'm sure there was contamination.

Malik: Based on what? You're saying the hospital in Klang contaminated the exhibits? You were not involved in the removal of the clothing. So would you agree that you're speculating?

Dr Khairul: It could have happened that way.

Exasperated, the usually mild-mannered Malik blew up for the second time today.

“You're speculating! Only tell us what you know,” the lawyer cried.

“I'm wondering why you are taking steps to undermine the facts,” he asked.

In a tight voice, Malik asked the pathologist again if he knew, for a fact — here he paused, stressing the word — that the autopsy table was contaminated.

“I don't know,” Dr Khairul answered in a low voice.

At the onset of the inquest, the coroner was told by government DNA expert Dr Seah Lay Hong that she had found samples of foreign DNA on the back of Teoh's coat and on his belt, which belonged to at least two men, seeming to raise the public's suspicions of foul play.

She had run tests on 157 individuals, including 81 anti-graft officers believed to be from the investigation team quizzing Teoh over alleged misuse of state money, and failed to find a match to the DNA, which remains a mystery to today.

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