KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Hundreds of Malaysian lawyers staged a protest Friday to condemn the anti-graft agency's unprecedented probe of a senior judge who convicted former Prime Minister Najib Razak, calling it a threat to judicial independence.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in April launched an investigation of Judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali, following allegations of an unexplained sum of over 1 million ringgit ($227,000) in his bank account.
Nazlan was the high court judge who sentenced Najib to 12 years in prison in July 2020 for corruption, and later was promoted to the Court of Appeals. Najib is appealing the case in the country's top court after losing an earlier appeal.
The Bar Council, which organized Friday's rally, condemned the anti-graft agency for publicly announcing its investigation and naming Nazlan. It said the move was not in accordance with constitutional procedures and could shake confidence in judicial integrity.
“We think that this particular unprecedented way of disclosure of the name of a sitting judge is actually an intimidation against the judiciary," said bar president Karen Cheah. She said the Bar Council wants the government to preserve and maintain the judicial independence "so that people can be confident in our judiciary system."
The agency has submitted its findings to the attorney general's office, which said last month it was still studying the report. Nazlan and the judiciary had denied the “false, baseless and malicious" allegation they said was aimed at tarnishing his credibility and meddling in the powers of the judiciary.
The agency's public disclosure of its probe with no details of the findings raises questions about its motive while Najib launches the final appeal against his conviction, said lawmaker and lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah, who joined the rally.
He said the Bar Council called for legislative reforms to make the anti-graft agency accountable to Parliament, instead of reporting directly to the prime minister.
Najib also faces several other graft trials linked to the multi-billion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund following his ruling party's ouster in 2018 general elections. He still remains influential and his Malay party has returned to power amid political maneuvers that saw lawmakers switching allegiance.
Police barred the lawyers, who assembled at a field, to march to nearby Parliament. The rally dispersed peacefully after a deputy minister came to the field to receive a memorandum from the Bar Council.