Azam Baki, a disgruntled economist, and cracks in the MACC

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s chief, Azam Baki, has been embroiled in a corruption controversy of his own, which has spilled into the new year.

Here’s what we know so far:

At the centre of the Azam Baki controversy: shareholdings, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and economist Terence Gomez.
Dec 27: Former Universiti Malaya professor Edmund Terence Gomez steps down in protest from his post on the MACC’s Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel. In his resignation letter, Gomez says he had asked the panel’s chairman Borhan Dolah and other higher-ups at MACC on numerous occasions to discuss the allegations but never saw anything come of it.

This included three emails he claimed he sent to MACC Advisory Board chairman Abu Zahar Nika Ujang to which there was no response.

Jan 5: Abu Zahar and Azam call a press conference at which Abu Zahar said the board had met on Nov 24 and had cleared Azam. Azam explains that his brother, Nasir Baki, had used his account to purchase shares that were later transferred to Nasir’s account. He said this was what he had told the board in November, which had led to his exoneration.

Jan 6: The Securities Commission says they will call Azam in to discuss the shareholdings, stating that shares in a trading account must be bought by the beneficial owner of the account.

Gomez also responded to the blockbuster press conference, asking whether Azam was aware of the rules governing trading accounts. He also asked where Azam’s brother had obtained the hundreds of thousands of ringgit needed to purchase the shares.

He also questioned why, despite the meeting allegedly being held on Nov 24, this was the first anyone was hearing about it; he called for a response from prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who had still not spoken up about the matter.

Anti-graft organisations, NGOs and MPs all called for the resignations of Azam and Abu Zahar.

Jan 8: Six fellow members of the advisory board distance themselves from Abu Zahar’s comments, saying he had given his personal opinion and not the consensus of the board. They also state that the board has no investigative powers and has no right to clear anyone of anything.

That same day, Gomez wrote another open letter questioning whether the Nov 24 meeting had indeed taken place, as he had never been told of it, despite having discussed the share issue with board members in December.

Jan 9: Three MACC deputy chief commissioners backed their boss, alleging that the narrative around his dealings was the result of “revenge politics”. They said the accusations were aimed at undermining the organisation’s credibility.

Jan 11: Abu Zahar holds another press conference, blaming the media for misreporting what he had said earlier. He said the misrepresentations were what prompted his fellow board members to distance themselves from his comments. However, he does not clarify or address what he had said earlier about Azam being cleared by the board. He also did not allow questions from the media.  FMT

Azam Baki’s rise in MACC

AFTER 36 years in public service as a graft-buster, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Azam Baki faces calls for his arrest and investigations by the Securities Commission (SC) and the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department.

Stock trading activities in 2015 and 2016 have caught up with him, and Azam’s admission that the purchase of shares was done by his brother using his account has opened him to scrutiny for possible breach of SC regulations.

There are also questions as to whether he had declared those assets in accordance with civil service rules, and concerns on conflict of interest arise as those purchases were made while he was director of MACC’s investigations unit.

A street rally to demand his arrest is being planned by anonymous activists using Twitter to organise the January 22 demonstration.

Born in 1963 in Negri Sembilan, Azam has a diploma in electrical engineering from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

He pursued his bachelor’s degree in jurisprudence at Universiti Malaya. He also holds a master’s degree from the Asia E-University.

In climbing up the ranks in the MACC, Azam had been an investigations officer, an intelligence officer as well as a prosecuting officer.

He was the lead investigator during the “lesen terbang” scandal in 2000, where he and his team apprehended more than 100 suspects, while blacklisting 100,000 others.

In 2013, Azam became the director of the intelligence division, before being made director of investigations in 2015.

In 2016, he was promoted to deputy chief commissioner (operations).

In March 9, 2020, Azam was appointed MACC chief, replacing Latheefa Koya who resigned following the change of government from Pakatan Harapan to Perikatan Nasional.

Internationally, he has participated in anti-corruption platforms through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Economic Crime Agencies Network and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Board chairman Abu Zahar Ujang says the board had heard Azam’s explanation at a meeting on November 24, and was satisfied that the chief commissioner had done no wrong. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 16, 2022.
MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Board chairman Abu Zahar Ujang says the board had heard Azam’s explanation at a meeting on November 24, and was satisfied that the chief commissioner had done no wrong. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 16, 2022.

The controversy

Azam recently disclosed that his brother, Nasir, had used his name to buy shares in two companies in 2015 and 2016. This came about after researcher-cum-independent journalist Lalitha Kunaratnam exposed his corporate shareholdings in two articles published online in October. Azam is now suing Lalitha for defamation.

With Lalitha’s information, former member of the MACC Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel, Dr Edmund Terence Gomez, wrote several times last November and December to his panel chief Borhan Dolah, and to MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Board chairman Abu Zahar Ujang, urging for action and a meeting to discuss the allegations against Azam.

The allegations were that Azam had ownership of 2.15 million shares in Excel Force MSC Bhd and 1.93 million shares in Gets Global Bhd in 2015, and 1.02 million shares in Gets Global Bhd the following year, and may not have declared them in accordance with civil service regulations.

On December 14, Sungai Buloh MP R. Sivarasa raised the allegations in the Dewan Rakyat and asked if Azam had declared the shares. He also called for an investigation.

Meanwhile, Gomez’s emails to Borhan and Abu Zahar were not entertained, with Borhan saying that the well-known political economist and academic had failed to detail the alleged wrongdoing against Azam in his email, while Abu Zahar denied receiving any email at all. Gomez said the detailed information about Azam had been sent in attachments to his email.

Gomez resigned from Borhan’s panel on December 27.

On January 5, Abu Zahar said the board had heard Azam’s explanation at a meeting on November 24, and was satisfied that the chief commissioner had done no wrong. Gomez responded, noting how strange it was that he, as a complainant, had never been informed of such a meeting or told to attend it.

According to Azam’s explanation, his brother Nasir had owned the shares, and had used his trading account to buy them. They were later transferred to him. At the time, Azam was head of the MACC investigation unit.

Azam also said he had declared the shares to “his superiors” when his brother bought them, and his superiors, whom he did not name, did not raise any concerns.

Abu Zahar’s “clearance” of Azam based on his explanation was immediately criticised. Calls were renewed for an independent investigation by a third party, and for MACC to be made accountable to Parliament instead of being an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department.

The chief commissioner is scheduled to meet the select committee on agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department on January 19 and has been urged by opposition politicians to show up.

The SC, on January 6, a day after Abu Zahar’s press conference, also said it would be questioning Azam.

Six board members also distanced themselves from Abu Zahar’s remarks that Azam had done nothing wrong.

Azam has said he will not step down unless the Yang di-Pertuan Agong orders him to do so.

Azam’s deputy commissioners at the MACC have also released a statement backing him and branding the allegations as being politically motivated.  TMI