By Debra Chong and Yow Hong Chieh
KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 — Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand’s reported pull-out from testifying in Teoh Beng Hock’s inquest next week due to political interference has raised fears among the Teoh family and the DAP that the case is being tampered with at the highest level.
The Selangor government has confirmed the Thai pathologist is not returning when the inquest resumes on April 20 but they want the coroner to agree to testimony via video-conferencing.
“Any effort to impede a fair hearing in the TBH case is an effort to cover up the truth and should be condemned,” Teoh’s younger sister, Lee Lan, said in a text message to The Malaysian Insider.
“The family wants Pornthip to come,” she added.
Several DAP lawmakers also told The Malaysian Insider today that they are worried about the repercussions on the inquest if Dr Pornthip does not show up to testify.
“If she cannot come we’ll be very disappointed,” said Selangor state executive councillor Ean Yong Hian Wah, who was also Teoh’s boss.
Dr Pornthip, 54, the director-general of Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, had reportedly pulled out from the ongoing case, claiming she was forced to do so because of “political pressure” from Putrajaya that could affect her work in southern Thailand.
The Malaysiakini news portal cited her saying her country’s government had received “signals” from the Malaysian government through “informal channels” telling her to voluntarily pull out from the inquest or face actions which could affect her work in southern Thailand
The flashy Thai pathologist could not be contacted yet to verify the reasons for not continuing her testimony into Teoh’s mysterious death last July 16.
She had said it was “80 per cent homicide”, contradicting Malaysian pathologists who say the political aide could have fallen to his death or suicide.
“The Malaysian government should come out with an official statement to confirm or deny it,” Ean Yong added.
Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai said pressure to stop Dr Pornthip’s from testifying would be disregarding justice.
“The Malaysian government should provide her all the necessary protection to facilitate her appearance at the inquest on the 20th,” said the DAP leader.
He said Dr Pornthip’s second autopsy report is expected to prove her initial theory that Teoh’s death was the result of homicide and not suicide as concluded by Malaysian pathologists.
“The government should offer an explanation. There’s ample time for the government to correct the wrongs,” Tan added.
Ean Yong’s colleague, Ronnie Liu said he believed Dr Pornthip is being harassed by the federal government into pulling out and challenged the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to disprove the view.
“The Malaysian government should openly invite Pornthip to come to Malaysian court to testify for the case.
“It’s very important for Pornthip to testify because she has the knowledge and the experience and the guts to tell the truth,” the DAP assemblyman for Pandamaran said.
Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua echoed Liu’s view and called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to step in and fulfil his personal promise to Teoh’s family to get to the bottom of the 30-year-old death.
“World-renowned pathologist Dr Pornthip’s evidence and statements are critical to ensure that justice will be served.
“Any attempts which result in her failure to testify will be a mockery of justice in this country. I hope that the Prime Minister will give his total commitment to ensure the safety and freedom of Dr Pornthip for her... to testify in such an important trial,” Pua said.
Seputeh MP Teresa Kok told The Malaysian Insider she was inclined to believe Dr Pornthip’s claims over de facto Law Minister, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.
Nazri was reported today to have called Dr Pornthip a “liar” for claiming the federal government had exerted “political pressure” on the Thai government to force her out of Teoh’s inquest.
Kok scoffed at Nazri’s rebuttal, noting that the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department did not always know what his department officials were doing.
“If the the statement is true, it is very stupid for the Malaysian government to do this during election time,” Kok said.
She reasoned that the federal government did this because it did not want the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to look bad.
“By not allowing Pornthip to come, it just casts more doubts in the mind of the public,” she said, referring to the anti-graft body’s public image which had taken a beating following Teoh’s death.
Kok urged the Thai forensic expert to return to the witness stand and testify. She boasted: “Pakatan Rakyat has enough members who will come forward to guarantee her safety.”
DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, challenged Nazri to make a ministerial statement on Dr Pornthip’s claims in Parliament tomorrow and request the Dewan Rakyat Speaker to allow full debate on the subject.
“With Pornthip barred from the Teoh Beng Hock inquest, public confidence in the Barisan Nasional government and MACC would plunge to a new all-time low as the overwhelming majority of Malaysians do not believe that Teoh Beng Hock committed suicide by jumping off the 14th floor of the MACC headquarters in Shah Alam on July 16 last year,” the DAP Parliamentary Opposition Leader said in his website today.
Lim’s call was echoed by his partyman Gobind Singh Deo who issued yet another challenge to Nazri.
“I challenge Nazri to offer himself as a witness at the inquest to prove his allegation that Dr Porntip had lied in court,” said the lawyer representing Teoh’s family in the ongoing inquest, criticised Nazri for failing to investigate Dr Pornthip’s claims first before labelling her a “liar”.
“Instead of assisting the Teoh family and trying to solve the problem, Nazri Aziz has spoken volumes for the government to the contrary,” he slammed.
“Is there a real desire on part of the government to see justice done for Teoh Beng Hock or do they hope to discredit those who have helped establish a case against suicide on his behalf as seems to be the case here?” quizzed Gobind who pointed out that Nazri’s statement reflected his ignorance and arrogance and was “contemptuous” of the court process.
Gobind noted that Dr Pornthip’s first testimony — highlighting pressure marks around Teoh’s neck suggesting he was possibly strangled — had borne out in the second autopsy ordered by the coroner, Azmil Muntapha Abbas.
“It further went to show that the theory advanced by the MACC, that Teoh was not harmed whilst on the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam may well be open to question,” he added.
Gobind ticked off Nazri for trying to interfere with the court process and told him to leave it to the coroner to decide based on the evidence.
Dr Pornthip had first testified in court here that Teoh’s death was “80 per cent homicide”, contradicting Malaysian pathologists who say the political aide could have fallen to his death or suicide.
Her second testimony will be crucial to the inquest, and to prove allegations that there was foul play in Teoh’s death.
Teoh, 30, had been questioned by anti-graft officers investigating claims his boss had misused state funds. He was found dead on July 16 last year, nine floors above the Selangor MACC’s office in Shah Alam.