[Ed’s note: This article was originally written 15th May 2015. This story has been updated following a press conference at Bukit Aman on the 10th Jan 2019.]
After the takeover from the new government in May 2018, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that his new cabinet will reopen the case, with Attorney General Tommy Thomas set to work out a formal structure for the reopened investigation. However, the Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced 4 months later that the police have yet to receive any directions from the AG’s chambers to reopen the case.
The Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy, an NGO set up to support the Teoh family and pursue the matter of Mr Teoh’s death, found this development quite weird as they had in their possession a copy of the letter sent from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) addressed to the Head of Police. The letter, dated 17th July 2018, is signed by the head of the general crimes and public order unit of the AGC, Amir bin Nasruddin.
To make their point clear, the NGO printed out a giant version of the letter and, like a giant cheque, ‘awarded’ it to the police at Bukit Aman earlier today, along with a memorandum requesting immediate action.
The giant letter was received by Deputy Superintendent of Publishing and Publicity, Faizal bin Samsuddin. The secretary of the NGO, Ngeow Chow Ying, stated that the purpose of the memorandum was to request clarification on the lack of updates on the investigation, and whether or not an investigation is being carried out. We must also point out that in the copy of the letter in our possession, the title of the office of Amir bin Nasruddin was misspelled.
We have reached out to the the office of Amir bin Nasruddin to verify the authenticity of the letter and are waiting for their response.
We hope that a conclusive investigation will be conducted soon to put to rest this unfortunate chapter in our history and our hearts go out to the family of Teoh Beng Hock in these uncertain times.
— Original article continued below —
Six years ago, a political aide named Teoh Beng Hock walked into the MACC office for interrogation. It was the last time he was seen alive. He was found dead the next morning on the rooftop of a building adjacent to the MACC offices.
But after six arduous years, on 12 May 2015, his family finally got some form of acknowledgement from the Government over his death. The Government has agreed to pay RM600,000 in damages and RM60,000 in costs to the family.
*From here on we’ll refer to Teoh Beng Hock as TBH
How exactly did the lawyers get the Malaysian Government to compensate for his death? CILISOS spoke to Gobind Singh Deo, MP of Puchong, son of the late Karpal Singh, and lead counsel for the victim’s family.
But first, how this man ended up on the pavement under mysterious circumstances
Teoh Beng Hock (20 April 1979 – 16 July 2009) was a former journalist with Sin Chew Daily before he joined politics. His sister Lee Lan recalls how Beng Hock was excited for the country’s future after the 2008 political tsunami…
“When Ean approached him to become his political aide after Pakatan Rakyat took over the Selangor government, he accepted. I remember him coming home saying that he was very happy with the political changes in the country. For once, he felt there was hope for change as Pakatan Rakyat had formed the state government in Selangor after the 2008 general election.” – Teoh Lee Lan, sister of TBH, TBH Trust For Democracy
Then on 15 July 2009, at about 6pm, the MACC took him into custody at their offices on the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam, Shah Alam, to give a statement on corruption allegations against his boss, Selangor Exco Ean Yong Hian Wah. The next morning, TBH was found dead on the 5th floor landing. He had apparently fallen out of a window…
The investigation of how it happened was long and complicated. They brought in Thai and British forensic pathologists Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand and Dr. Peter Vanezis. Apparently there was no CCTV installed in the room where he was interrogated. There was evidence that he may have had pre-fall injuries, there was evidence of fingerprints at the window, but it was dusty so the police couldn’t use it. Then the window on the 14th floor had a broken latch… Very confusing.
MACC claimed they only interrogated him for 9 hours (as a voluntary witness) and let him leave at 3.45am. But somehow his possessions, including his mobile phone, remained in their custody. When his other colleagues (who were also interrogated) spoke of their experiences, they related that MACC officers put them under pressure, like being denied access to lawyers, food and drink.
And so the long process of fighting for justice for TBH began. On 29 July 2009, Gobind Singh Deo, along with his late father Karpal Singh, SN Nair and Lim Lip Eng represented the Teoh family in court pro bono, which means voluntarily and without payment.
“We do take many cases pro bono. This was one where it was….. just a terrible injustice to the family. The manner in which they were treated, the difficulty they went through, all the politics… Mr. Karpal and I looked at his family and we offered whatever help we could.” – Gobind
Coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas began investigations into the cause and way he died, but it took 18 MONTHS to arrive at a verdict. Even so, his answer was vague, saying that TBH’s death was neither a homicide, nor a suicide. Bowing to public anger, the Government also agreed to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI). The report that the RCI released on 21 July 2011, claimed TBH had committed suicide due to aggressive questioning.
But how can TBH’s family and friends accept that, believing he would NEVER have done such a thing?
So, Gobind and the family continued fighting in court. They fought on TWO fronts:
1. Firstly, they sued for negligence…
So this is fighting it from a CIVIL angle:
“We sued the 10 officers who held TBH, the MACC and the Government. In the process of working on this case, a civil suit came up. You see, civil and criminal cases are different. For criminal cases, the police take action and a person either gets fined or jailed. For civil cases, you get awarded compensation.” – Gobind
In layman terms, Gobind told us it would go something like this: If you are driving a car, you have the responsibility of being alert on the road. In a split second if you lose focus and knock into another car, that is NEGLIGENCE. So that is a civil case, not criminal.
“So the MACC officers should have taken care of him. They were responsible for his safety while he was in their custody. But they were negligent.” – Gobind
And this was the case that they WON. As we mentioned above, the Government has admitted to negligence and agreed to award compensation of RM600,000 in damages and RM60,000 in costs.
*Gobind explained that ‘damages’ means the amount of compensation, and ‘cost’ is for the money spent on lawyer fees, documentation, etc.
To Gobind, it wasn’t about the money. Although he said, the money of course can be used for TBH’s wife and son, or for his parents to use. What was more important to them is to get the acknowledgement. That’s why the family agreed to this settlement. “So the federal counsel is accepting responsibility for what happened. After 6 years of fighting, we’ve come to a point where they’ve acknowledged responsibility,” he added.
But with all the money in the world, can it ever replace the loss of a loved one?
You’re probably thinking, RM600,000 for a man’s life? How is that fair?? Unfortunately, that’s the way the legal system works.
“We abound by Malaysian law in terms of compensation. We took legal opinion and the family was advised the amount was the best they can get.” – Gobind
In calculating the compensation, this is how the courts usually do it:
They took into account that TBH would have worked up to the age of 60, so that’s the amount they get. “The law is mean. The calculation is not practical at all. This has shown that a life is equivalent only to RM600,000. Life is so cheap. I feel much regret about this,” Lee Lan said. A report shows this settlement may not be entirely what the family wants, but they had to either accept it, or the case will drag on and on.
BUT… It. Wasn’t. Over.
Then they sued for assault and battery…
So this is fighting it from a CRIMINAL angle.
In Malaysiakini’s report, Lee Lan vowed that the MACC had not seen the last of the family.
Unexpectedly, on 5 September 2014, the Court of Appeal made an amazing landmark judgement… Remember the vague answer given by the coroner? Well, the Court of Appeal overturned it and ruled that it was NOT suicide!“They found that his death was caused by persons unknown. So they conducted the police to probe and charge those who are responsible,” explained Gobind.
“Every effort must be made to track down the perpetrator or perpetrators in a thorough police investigation. No one should be spared in the investigations so that there will be no allegations of a cover up.” – Justice Mah Weng Kwai, one of the 3 Court of Appeal judges, The Star
In other words, someone must be responsible for his death, now you police go catch them and bring them to justice!
Now, the ball is in the police’s court
“Having secured this judgement was our first victory. It’s a landmark case, where we can now push for criminal prosecution.” – Gobind
The Court of Appeal has done a good thing, in that they’re ordering the police to find whoever is responsible and bring them to justice. But what’s the update from the police? According to Gobind, it’s been more than 8 months since the ruling and so far, they haven’t gotten anything much. Even though the police said they’ve set up a special task force to investigate. The only thing the family can do now is wait.
On the other hand, the unexpected ruling by the Court of Appeal has been a game-changer in Malaysia.
“It has changed the law relating to inquest, in order to prove that the Government is liable. That law has changed after TBH. Since then, the courts have been a lot more open.” – Gobind
*Inquest is called for by a judge to determine the cause of a person’s death when it is sudden or unexplained.
Gobind cites that there have been 3 or 4 other cases that called for inquest. One was the case of C. Sugumaran, a security guard who died after being chased by police officers, and another is 15-year-old Aminulrasyid Amzah who was shot dead by the police.
So… What happens to the MACC?
No choice take out wallet lor (which incidentally could be taxpayers’ money).
There’s probably no further answer we can give to that. As for the 10 MACC officers, life will probably go on as usual. In fact, last year, one of the MACC officers Mohd Anuar Ismail was promoted. As Gobind told us, the defendants have admitted to negligence, but no one has been sentenced to anything.
We asked Gobind which department or Ministry specifically would be paying the compensation and where will the money come from?
“The Government has funds la. Some from taxes or other sources. Some people might argue that it could come from public funds. We won’t know coz we don’t deal with that. They will forward payment through their lawyers.” – Gobind
But if there’s anything we learned about the Teoh family, especially Lee Lan, and the lawyers who have worked tirelessly in this case – the fight’s not over. Gobind says that they don’t want to waste the chance the Court of Appeal has given them. The judges had taken a lot of pains to go through the evidence thoroughly.
“I don’t think we’ll ever stop fighting. I don’t think the family will ever give up.” – Gobind