Remember TBH: A Recap Of The Teoh Beng Hock Inquest

Do not forget. Coroner is to rule in a few hours. This is a summary of the Teoh Beng Hock Inquest.

TBH

Background

On 16 July 2009, Malaysians were shocked by the death of a young Malaysian named Teoh Beng Hock (TBH). On 15 July 2009, he was called and interviewed by officers of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to assist in a corruption investigation. TBH’s body was later found on the roof of the 5th floor of Plaza Masalam, which houses the headquarters of the Selangor MACC branch. The Police classified his death as “sudden death”.

Who is TBH?

TBH was at the time of his death the political secretary to Ean Yong Hian Wah, who is a member of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly and State Executive Council.

Why was an Inquest held?

An Inquest is held to investigate the cause(s) of death especially in cases of deaths in custody or sudden deaths. The provisions for an Inquest in Malaysia are found in Sections 328 to 341A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). An Inquest is conducted by a Coroner (who is also a Magistrate) as per Section 337 CPC.

Section 337 CPC reads as follows:

A Magistrate holding an inquiry shall inquire when where, how and after what matter the deceased came by his death and also whether any person is criminally concerned in the cause of the death.

The coroner in the TBH Inquest of TBH is Tuan Azmil Muntapha Abas. He is assisted by the Attorney General’s Chambers appointed lawyer, Tan Hock Chuan.

The other parties involved in the death inquest are: Gobind Singh Deo, who holds a watching brief for TBH’s family; Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, who holds a watching brief for the Selangor Government; Datuk Abdul Razak who holds a watching brief for MACC; and finally a group of lawyers holding a watching brief for the Malaysian Bar.

The Inquest

The Inquest into the death of TBH began on 29 July 2010 at the Shah Alam Magistrates Court. The case has attracted immense publicity and interest of the public, and the courtroom was filled to the brim when the Inquest proceedings were being held.

The evidence led at the Inquest appears to suggest that TBH committed suicide by jumping from the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam landing on the 5th floor. The initial post-mortem result showed that TBH died from internal injuries suffered from the fall.

In October 2009, Dr. Pornthip was retained by the Selangor Government to conduct a 2nd autopsy on TBH. His body as exhumed in November 2009. During her testimony in chief, Dr. Pornthip said that it was unlikely TBH had committed suicide. She testified that it was likely that TBH was unconscious as a result of strangulation before he fell to his death. Dr. Vanezis, however, who testified for the MACC disagreed with her theory and said TBH was conscious during the fall.

There were other issues raised in the Inquest such as TBH being denied his right to counsel at the time of investigation. Despite attempts made by TBH’s lawyer, M. Manoharan at that time to meet with TBH during the investigation, he was denied access to his lawyer by the MACC.

The Secret Note

Later, a purported “suicide note” belonging to TBH was tendered to the Coroner as evidence. The note was “found” some 2 months after TBH’s death purportedly in his sling bag. The Investigating Officer, Assistant Superintendent Ahmad Nazri Zainal conducted another search into the sling bag after he was advised by a psychiatrist that it is common in a suicide case that there will be a note left behind by the deceased.

The sudden admission of the “suicide note” caused drama in the courtroom as lawyers were dismayed as to why the “suicide note” was only tendered 10 months after his death. The “suicide note” was finally tendered in as evidence. The “suicide note” caused some confusion during its translation because there were disputes over the meaning of the word “goodbye” in the “suicide note”.

The Verdict?

After 37 witnesses and on 4 November 2010, the Coroner directed all parties to file their written submissions on 10 December 2010.

17 December 2010 was fixed for clarification of submissions. However, no clarification was needed. The Coroner then fixed 27 December 2010 for parties to file submissions in reply (if any) and fixed 5 January 2011 for decision of the Inquest.

On 5 January 2010, the Coroner could rule (i) that TBH had committed suicide, (ii) that there were persons (other than TBH) who had caused TBH’s death amounting to a misadventure or murder/homicide or (iii) that it is an open verdict, i.e. it is not clear how TBH died.

It must be noted that Section 339(2) CPC provides that once an inquiry is closed, the Public Prosecutor may still be able to direct the Coroner to re-open the inquiry to cause further investigations only if the finding of the Coroner is not murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Yip currently works in a law firm in Kuala Lumpur, and believes that in order to realise a dream, we must first dare to dream. When not LoyarBurokking, he indulges in educating peeps like you and me about the Federal Constitution through the MyConstitution Campaign, kicks balls in futsal and talks about love.


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