Malaysia Rules Out Murder, Suicide in Probe Into Opposition Aide's Death

A Malaysian coroner declared an open verdict in an inquest into the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove how he died and ruling out both suicide and homicide.

Teoh, aged 30 at the time, fell from the 14th floor of the offices of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in July 2009, hours after being grilled as a witness in an investigation into alleged misuse of public funds in the opposition-run state of Selangor, police confirmed at the time.

“We are very disappointed with the verdict today,” Teoh Lee Lan, his sister, told reporters today in Shah Alam, outside of Kuala Lumpur. “We want to see the prime minister. We want the truth.”

The commission was formed in 2008 by then-Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to replace an existing body in a bid to better clamp down on graft. It was modeled after anti-corruption bodies in Hong Kong and New South Wales, Australia, with five independent bodies to monitor its integrity and protect citizens’ rights.

Teoh, political secretary to Selangor executive councilor Ean Yong Hian Wah, was found dead on the 5th floor podium of the commission’s building after he was questioned for nearly 11 hours, according to a police account of the circumstances of his death as reported by the New Straits Times at the time.

Second Post-Mortem

“The case has had a negative impact on both the commission and prime minister,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of the Merdeka Center, an independent research institute based outside of Kuala Lumpur. “There is a recognition that the government is working harder to fight corruption, but people are waiting to see if large political and corporate figures are brought to justice,’ he said in a telephone interview ahead of the verdict.

Coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas delivered his findings in a magistrates court in Shah Alam after 37 witnesses testified and Teoh’s body was exhumed for a second post-mortem.

Najib Razak, who replaced Abdullah as prime minister in April 2009, ordered the inquest following public protests. He also agreed to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to look into interrogation methods used on Teoh by the anti-corruption agency.

“We’re not going to let up,” Gobind Sing Deo, a lawyer for Teoh’s family, told reporters in Shah Alam. They will file a high court motion to revise the verdict and want Najib to honor his promise of a royal commission of inquiry, he said.

Lower Chinese Support

Najib has made fighting crime and corruption a policy priority in the past year, with more government contracts now put out to tender and a whistleblower’s protection act coming into force. In January 2010, Abu Kassim Mohammad was appointed chief commissioner of Malaysia’s graft-busting body to replace Ahmad Said Hamdan.

While Najib had a 69 percent popularity rating in a survey released by Merdeka Center on December 11, his backing was lower among ethnic Chinese voters partly due to the Teoh case, said Ibrahim, the institute’s director.

Malaysia was ranked the world’s 56th least corrupt country in Transparency International’s 2010 index for a second year, which said in a report there had been little progress in combating corruption and a lack of political will in implementing effective measures.

“With the new structure of MACC and the new leadership there, I believe compared with two years ago, they have improved,” Paul Low, president of Transparency International Malaysia said in a phone interview before the verdict. “This case does throw light that there are some procedures in questioning witnesses that need to be revamped.”

-- Editors: Barry Porter, Peter Hirschberg.

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at pchong17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Barry Porter in Kuala Lumpur at bporter10@bloomberg.net

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