Malaysia

Utusan Malaysia says normal for corruption witnesses to commit suicide

By Clara Chooi
July 24, 2011

Utusan Malaysia

“Awang does not understand it has been made such a major issue whether a person commits suicide during or after interrogation,” Awang Selamat wrote today in Mingguan Malaysia, the Malay daily’s Sunday edition. “In many other countries, the act of sacrificing oneself is not something alien to a corruption case.”

Awang Selamat is a pseudonym under which editors of Utusan Malaysia write.

Teoh was found dead on July 16, 2009, on the fifth-floor corridor of Plaza Masalam in Shah Alam after he was questioned overnight by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officers at their then-Selangor headquarters on the 14th floor.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) report on Teoh’s death ruled that the former DAP aide had committed suicide as a result of “aggressive, relentless, oppressive and unscrupulous interrogation” by MACC officers.

Despite the suicide conclusion, Teoh’s family members and opposition leaders are holding the MACC responsible for the youth’s death, saying that forced suicide amounts to homicide.

To illustrate how suicide is common in corruption cases, Awang cited the example of how several civil servants in China were reported to have killed themselves last year out of depression. Many, he said, were linked to corruption scandals.

In another example, Awang related how the key witness in the corruption trial of the wife of former Taiwan president Chen Sui Bian had attempted suicide barely hours after she testified in December 2008.

In Japan, he wrote, several senior public servants and LDP party members took their lives during the investigation of a high-profile corruption scandal in 1989.

In the Philippines, former army chief General (rtd) Angelo Reyes committed suicide during the investigation on the misappropriation of army funds, said Awang.

“There are many more cases of those committing suicide or attempting to commit suicide when their deeds are exposed or are being investigated by graft busters or the police,” he said.

“What more when it involves a cartel, when the situation is even more complex. Although most of these other cases do not involve death in the premises of the authorities, the issue is the same — the accused or witness is embarrassed, stressed and depressed enough to find their own escape route.”

In a possible reference to Teoh, Awang said that there were also many cases of those who were prepared to take their lives to avoid betraying their bosses or their organisations.

Teoh was called in for questioning by the MACC as the commission had reportedly wanted to pressure him into becoming a witness in their case against his boss, Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah, for alleged abuse of public funds.

“Many experts, including Dr Alex Lickerman from the University of Chicago, who is also the columnist for Psychology Today, view that many of these cases result from the psychological vulnerability of the individual,” he said.

Awang also referred to a case in Malaysia when a Form 6 Chinese school student, who was accused of taunting a female student, jumped off a building after receiving advice from a counsellor.

“This student too had a bright future ahead and his family lost its most valued asset — a child. But in understanding his suicide, should the counsellor be faulted?” said Awang.