The High Court yesterday dismissed an appeal of a former public servant against a sentence handed for graft.
The Magistrate’s Court handed a one-year jail sentence to former Grade 2 staff officer at the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) Mohd Shah Nurul Ridzuan bin Haji Maiddin.
On October 20, 2021 the appellant was first charged with accepting bribe money and a charge under Section 165 of the Penal Code for an offence of a public servant having obtained a valuable thing without consideration. He denied both charges, but the appellant pleaded guilty to the graft charge before the trial began.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Rozaimah Abdul Rahman, who conducted the prosecution and responded to the appeal, revealed that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) found that Mohd Shah Nurul Ridzuan accepted BND1,000 as an inducement for expediting the process of payment for the work ‘Additional Power Point at Level 2 Housing Unit, Old Building, MoRA’ on June 28, 2016.
The contractor had told the defendant to convert some of the cash into gift vouchers to be given to other ministry employees of the Finance Unit of the Building and Maintenance Section.
The defendant admitted to having pocketed BND500, while the remainder was used to purchase department store gift vouchers, which he gave to his colleagues and former girlfriend.
Counsel Sheikh Noordin Sheikh Mohammad, who represented the appellant in the Magistrate’s Court and at the appeal, contested the court’s decision in handing the one-year jail sentence.
The counsel acknowledged the usual sentence in such case circumstances would be a custodial sentence. However, he contended that the court failed to identify “exceptional circumstances” which justify a probationary order or a fine.
These are the fact that the appellant pleaded guilty, having no criminal record, the amount of BND1,000 involved is “relatively small”, his agreement to give evidence against his co-accused and delay in bringing the case to court.
The counsel also referred to a couple of case laws.
Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong examined the points raised by the counsel leading to his decision to dismiss the application.
The chief justice said that the sentencing court had found that the appellant’s case is aggravated as he was a public servant.
The chief justice further iterated that aggravating factors are essential in the case, but the Magistrate’s reference is wrong as the appellant was only a supervisor and not the contract owner.
However, the chief justice disagreed with the presence of “exceptional circumstances” to justify a probation order or a fine. The High Court further reiterated that the amount is relatively small but is not insubstantial.
“The appellant’s conduct erodes public confidence, which should attract a substantial prison sentence,” the chief justice thought.
The court also said there was a delay in bringing the case to court for five years from the offence committed, but once the appellant was charged, a trial was fixed to start within seven months.
The case law referred to by the counsel involved an individual and saw no relevance to consider the circumstances in the appellant’s case.
The chief justice also said that the Magistrate had taken an appropriate starting point of one year and six months jail but gave a discount and handed a one-year jail sentence.
The chief justice dismissed the appeal on seeing that the reduction is appropriate in considering the appellant’s guilty plea, the delay in bringing the case to court and that “one year’s jail sentence is not excessive nor wrong in principle”.