Lawyer Haniff Khatri on Tommy Thomas’ memoir: No attorney general may divulge advice they gave while serving

Ida Lim
·4-min read
Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur March 17, 2018. ― Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur March 17, 2018. ― Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla today questioned the reported excerpts of Tan Sri Tommy Thomas’ memoir on the latter’s two-year tenure as attorney general, stressing that those who have served as the government’s top legal adviser should never publicly disclose the advice they had provided unless allowed under the law.

Haniff, who has in the past acted as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s lawyer in some court cases, said he has yet to read the full contents of Thomas’ newly-released book My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, but wanted to give preliminary comments on a news report on the book’s contents.

Haniff was referring to news portal Malaysiakini’s Bahasa Malaysia report today titled “Agong pernah cadangkan Wan Azizah jadi PM tapi Dr M tak setuju — Thomas”, which quoted the memoir on various matters such as Thomas claiming that Dr Mahathir had allegedly nominated himself as interim prime minister when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had allegedly proposed Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for the position.

Based on the report, Haniff claimed that there were four controversial matters in what Thomas reportedly wrote in the book.

“Fourthly, for me, professionally, any attorney general is to some extent bound to the concept of ‘lawyer-client interest’, which is, matters that are the essence of advice given while carrying out duties as a lawyer, in reality, unless in situations allowed by law, cannot be disclosed in public, as the structure of trust and legal integrity will be affected, if it is done simply, what more by an attorney general or a former attorney general,” Haniff said in a lengthy statement issued this evening.

Among other things, Haniff also alleged that Thomas’ reported claim — of Dr Mahathir’s push for himself to be interim prime minister when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong proposed Dr Wan Azizah for the post — created a controversy which would require a verification of facts to determine if what the former attorney general wrote was true.

Haniff said that the palace and the Agong would also allegedly be caught up in the controversy over the issue.

Arguing against Thomas’ claim that Dr Mahathir voluntarily gave up his position as prime minister in February 2020, Haniff instead insisted that Dr Mahathir was required under the Federal Constitution to meet the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and resign following the events after the Sheraton Move.

Following the Sheraton Move, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia under Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and a faction of MPs in PKR led by Datuk Seri Azmin Ali pulled out from the then ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, which Haniff said resulted in Dr Mahathir losing majority support as the prime minister in the PH administration.

Haniff argued that the Federal Constitution’s Article 43(4) requires any prime minister to command the majority support from members of the Dewan Rakyat at all times in order to remain as prime minister, when saying this was why Dr Mahathir had to resign as prime minister on February 24.

Haniff also disputed Thomas’ reported views that it would have been correct constitutionally to have Dr Wan Azizah — who had served as deputy prime minister in Dr Mahathir’s Cabinet — appointed as interim prime minister.

Haniff argued that no senior minister or even the deputy prime minister in the PH administration would have the right to automatically continue governing Malaysia as the subsequent prime minister, when the coalition had lost its majority to remain as government.

Haniff also said he would procure a copy of the memoir which was released yesterday to read it in full.

In his statement today, Haniff did not claim to represent Dr Mahathir. At the time of writing, Dr Mahathir has also not issued any public comments via his Facebook page regarding news reports today regarding Thomas’ book.

Then Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court in this file picture taken on January 8, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Then Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court in this file picture taken on January 8, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Published by Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD), the 573-page book by Thomas is available for purchase from Gerakbudaya, with the memoir including events during his tenure from June 2018 to February 28, 2020 as Malaysia’s attorney general. Dr Mahathir was also prime minister during that period.

Just a day before its release to the public, Gerakbudaya had however on January 29 indicated that the first printing of the book was already out of stock.

“Due to overwhelming demand for Tommy Thomas’s My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, the publisher will produce a subsequent reprint,” it had written in a Facebook post, noting that pre-orders that were made by customers previously would likely arrive by the first week of February.

Gerakbudaya said orders for the memoir that were placed after January 29 would be fulfilled as soon as the reprint arrives, which it said would likely be before the end of February.

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