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Asean Affairs  20 December 2010

Top official sentenced to jail

By  David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs     20 December 2010

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In what must be considered an uncommon and revolutionary event in Southeast Asia, a top Malaysian government official has actually been convicted and sentenced to a long jail term on charges of graft.

A former Malaysian immigration department deputy director Yusof Abu Bakar, 56, was found guilty last week of accepting 121,500 ringgit (US$38,500) in bribes to approve the extension of social visit passes for several Chinese nationals.

The court sentenced Yusof to 56 years jail in total and fined him 620,000 ringgit over the 14 charges of corruption, his lawyer indicated.

What makes this case unusual is that this type prosecution is seldom seen in Southeast Asian countries and points out on of the stumbling blocks they may encounter as they attempt to progress in political and legal maturity.

Most Asian countries have laws similar to western nations in dealing with all types of misconduct. However, prosecutions of cases may drag on for years. So long, in fact that public outcries or publicity about a case are usually extinguished by the time a final decision is reached.

In many cases, legal charges are pressed against officials of the government by opposition political parties and serve as parts of a strategy to unseat the party in power. Frequently these cases are dismissed or the two political parties reach an out of court solution.

Regrettably, countries such as Thailand, Philippines and apparently, Malaysia, given the attention this case has attracted, have less than efficient court systems. One can also put Cambodia on the list as one recalls that it took years for the ageing Khmer Rouge officials to sit in the docket, some of them dying before the UN-backed trials began.

Some Malaysian political observers say this conviction was politically motivated as Prime Minister Najib Razak assumed power last year to stamp out corruption, nevertheless, it is an unusual event in the region.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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