By Timothy Achariam | The Edge Malaysia

(From left) Lawyers Irwin Lo, Zaid Malek, and Lai Chee Hoe at a press conference on Lai’s arrest. —THE EDGE/ SUHAIMI YUSUF

Human rights NGO Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has condemned the actions of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in detaining a lawyer and questioning another for representing a client in court.

Lawyer Lai Chee Hoe, who was speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, said the MACC had raided his office on June 4 to investigate his firm, which acted as lawyers in a strata management dispute for one of the parties in court. 

Lai said he was questioned at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya, and was later detained there. He was made to wear the infamous MACC orange uniform for detainees.

According to Lai, the MACC was investigating the party he is representing in court.

Meanwhile, another lawyer Irwin Lo claimed that he was also questioned by the commission because he represented the same client. However, he was not detained and was told to bring in documents pertinent to the case.

LFL director Zaid Malek said this was a clear threat against Lai and was tantamount to harassment against the lawyers.

“MACC has no power to ask lawyers to come in and investigate lawyers and demand documents for cases they are conducting,” he told the media. Zaid stressed that all legal recourse would be considered, and he is hoping that MACC Chief Commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki would come up with a statement to clear the air.

When contacted after the press conference, MACC’s chieftain Tan Sri Azam Baki, however, disclosed that Lai is being investigated for embezzlement and abuse of power for his role as the former chairman of the joint management committee, while Irwin was sought to help with investigations. 

“Lai acted as legal adviser and is the former chairman of the joint management body (of the property in question); he, together with several committee members, were suspected of abusing their power to embezzle funds in the management and maintenance account,” Azam told The Edge.

“There is no issue of interference with the right of public legal representation,” Azam commented.

He said that Lai is the main suspect in the case, and he was remanded to be investigated for his role in the case.

“The focus of the investigation team was on the issue of abuse of power and embezzlement carried out by Lai, and not to get information on his client,” Azam said.

MACC, in a separate statement later, also said section 31 of the MACC Act, which stipulates the commission’s power of search and seizure, gives it the right to enter any premises to search, confiscate and retrieve any books, documents, account records, or data, and to search or detain any person encountered in such premises to facilitate its investigations.

It also said it will not bow to pressure or accusations in the course of their investigations.

Lai, meanwhile, did not deny that he is the former chair of the joint management body. 

At the press conference, Lai claimed that the MACC had gone to a magistrate to seek a remand extension until June 8, but his lawyer Amer Hamzah intervened and wrote a letter to the magistrate, who then allowed Lai to be released on June 6, subject to RM20,000 in bail, with the condition that he has to report to the MACC’s headquarters periodically.

He also claimed that the MACC released him on three conditions.

“The MACC officers told me: do not give a press conference, do not join the management body meetings, and withdraw yourself from the case as a lawyer,” he said at the press conference.

Azam, however, refuted that his officers had given the aforementioned three terms.