AFTER 10 years of investigation and court proceedings, former Development Minister YAM Pg Indera Wijaya Pg Dr Hj Ismail Pg Hj Damit lost his final attempt to overturn his conviction and seven year sentence for corruption after the Court of Appeal dismissed his application yesterday.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Pg Dr Hj Ismail's appeal against his 11 convictions for graft, and threw out the defence's request to reduce the amount of restitution and prosecution costs to be paid by the appellant, which amounts to $4,786,043 (S$6.27 million).
The ex-Minister was convicted of corruptly awarding over $300 million in government contracts to TED Sdn Bhd, and accepting personal bribes to the tune of $11 million in the form of cash, property and land from its Managing Director, Wong Tim Kai.
During the course of the trial and appeal, Pg Dr Hj Ismail maintained that he fulfilled his responsibilities as Minister of Development without showing special favour to TED Sdn Bhd.
Nevertheless, the court upheld the seven year prison sentence imposed for three charges under section 6(a) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which the trial judge ordered to run concurrently.
"This court will not interfere with a sentence unless it is shown to be manifestly excessive or wrong in principle," said Justice Mortimer.
"On this basis it is contended on behalf of the appellant that the starting point (for sentencing) was too high. In a case such as this, however, where a course of corrupt conduct by a man in a high and powerful public office, involving very large sums of money, is pursued over many years, punishment and deterrence must be the paramount considerations."
However, the Court of Appeal did reduce his sentence for six of the eight charges under section 165 of the Penal Code from five years to 18 months, stating that at the time the offences were committed the maximum penalty for a "public servant receiving a valuable thing" was two years imprisonment, and not the seven years it was later amended to in 1997.
However, the reduction has no effect on the totality of the Pg Dr Hj Ismail sentence, since it runs concurrently with the seven-year sentence for his three convictions under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
"Had the judge been made aware of the change of maximum penalty and had sentenced accordingly, it would not have affected the totality of the sentence," said Justice Barry Mortimer, president of the Court of Appeal.
Wong, his co-defendant, was tried in absentia alongside the former minister and also convicted of 11 counts of corruption.
After fleeing Brunei in September 2009, Wong's current whereabouts are unknown, although he is believed to be in Malaysia. He is listed as a wanted person on Interpol.
In their final plea for mercy, defence counsel submitted that because of the defendant's character, advanced age, ill health and contribution to the development of Brunei, a reduction in the totality of his sentence should be considered.
However, in response to this, Justice Mortimer said that the appellant's ill health was not due to incarceration and that, because of appropriate medical treatment, he was on the mend.
He added, "We were told the appellant is remorseful if his conduct has caused any pain to His Majesty the Sultan... The appellant has not admitted his guilt or expressed remorse for his crimes. None of the matters urged before us are such as to justify interference with what was and remains a proper overall sentence."
The judge went on to say that despite his immense contribution towards the development of Brunei during his tenure as minister from 1986 to 2001, the court cannot ignore the fact for half that time he was involved in corrupt activities.
In regards to the appeal against paying 90 per cent of prosecution costs and restitution to the Brunei government, Justice Mortimer, citing a Hong Kong corruption appeal, said "It is not open to an offender who has quite clearly benefited in sums... to say that he ought not to make restitution because he has spirited away or spent the proceeds of corruption... There is no room for a defence which says that the corrupt agent cannot afford to pay."
The judgment for appeal marks the end of a case that has been building for more than 10 years against the former Development Minister.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau began investigations into Pg Dr Hj Ismail's dealings in 1999 and completed them in 2001, resulting in charges being brought against him in 2004.
The first abortive trial ran from 2005 until February 2009 when the presiding judge, former Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Mohamed Saied had to step down due to ill health.
A new trial began in September 2009 and was completed in February this year, making the landmark corruption trial one of the longest in Brunei Darussalam's legal history.
As decreed by the court, if the apellant fails to pay within 100 days the $4,219,242 in restitution for the gratifications received, he will face a 12 month extension of his sentence in default of payment.
Similarly, the apellant must pay $566,801 in default of six-months' imprisonment to cover 90 per cent of the prosecution's costs during the trial.
Pg Dr Hj Ismail is currently serving his sentence at Jerudong Prison.
-- The Brunei Times/Asia News Network