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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wrong conviction?


Lim Mun Fah, Sin Chew Daily
27 years ago, on this side of the Johor Causeway, a bunch of MCA members shouted boisterous slogans, urging the Malaysian government to sever water supply to Singapore. Despite the passing years, the emotional outburst of 1985 still comes back to me vividly.
Indeed, those people were protesting the arrest of then MCA president Tan Koon Swan by the Singapore authorities.
In the infamous Pan El incident, Tan, exalted by many as the saviour of the local Chinese community, was slapped with 15 charges of fraud, cheating, stock market manipulation and abetment of criminal breach of trust. Tan was convicted the following year and had to spend his next two years in a jail in the island state.
Many MCA leaders and members were unconvinced by the Singapore court's verdict, crying foul that the sentence had been politically motivated and not merely on commercial grounds.
Although this incident has slowly faded from the memories of many, Singapore's chief prosecutor back then Glenn Jeyasingam Knight has revealed in his bookGlenn Knight The Prosecutor published just three weeks ago, that he admitted of wrongly convicting Tan back in 1986.
According to Knight, when Singapore's chief justice Yong Pung How was presiding over a similar CBT case in the court in 1996, ten years after Tan's verdict was passed, he said Tan was wrongly charged. In other words, Tan was wrongly charged and convicted and was technically an innocent man.
Knight said he had to come to terms with his "mistake." although he did not elaborate why he apologised to Tan only as recently as in 2010, or nine years after he learned of his grave mistake, and revealed this 'secret" only now. Did that have anything to do with his conviction of corruption charges years later during his tenure as the director of the republic's Commercial Affairs Department?
We cannot imagine the feelings of Tan Koon Swan after he was informed of the wrong conviction that resulted in him spending 18 months in jail. We also cannot imagine how emotionally charged Tan was on learning of this, as Knight has depicted in his memoir.
From Knight's accounts, Tan already knew of the fact that he had been wrongly convicted two years ago, but why did he keep mum over the past two years instead of seeking justice for himself?
I have to admit that I am a complete layman where law is concerned. I could not fathom out why in such a major case like the Pan El -- which endured a lengthy hearing process with the chief prosecutor, defending lawyers, judge, evidences, defences and court verdict all in place -- the chief prosecutor would make an abrupt public revelation only after two decades that he had indeed wrongly charged the defendant?
Does it imply that everyone is equal under the law is not an absolute truth? Or is it real that deficiencies do xist in law, which could be defiled, dark, selective, and even inequitable?
Today, we might lament this misstep, and wonder whether the MCA history would be rewritten, whether the Malaysian politics would take on a different course of development, or whether the cooperative scandal could be averted, in the absence of this whole thing.
That said, there is no way we could turn back time. And again, there is no "if" in history. All that we can say is that if Knight's confession has been true, no apologises nor remorse could make good the agony and loss Tan Koon Swan has been forced to swallow.

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