KUALA LUMPUR, 17 March 2009: The Umno disciplinary board has found Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam guilty of breaking the party Code of Ethics and barred him from contesting the deputy president’s post in the upcoming party polls.
Additionally, board chairperson Tengku Tan Sri Ahmad Rithaudeen told a press conference today that Umno Youth chief aspirants Khairy Jamaluddin was given a warning, while Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo was cleared of any election misdeed.
Ali Rustam Word had been circulating that Ali, who is seen to be aligned with outgoing party president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was under investigation by the board for breaking election rules. Both Ali and the board had refused to comment before this.
Rithaudeen said three of Ali’s agents, all from the Bukit Katil Umno division of which Ali is chief, were also found guilty of money politics, and hence Ali was presumed guilty.
This is according to Article 10.1 of the Umno Code of Ethics, whereby the “principal is vicariously liable for the offence of wrong committed by his agent.”
“What wrong his agents have done, he as the principal, is presumed to be guilty,” Rithaudeen said.
The disciplinary board found strong links between Ali and Saadun Basirun, Ali’s political secretary who was convicted of bribery, and who campaigned on Ali’s behalf at functions and gatherings. Saadun has been suspended from the party for three years.
Ali, however, remains an Umno member. Rithaudeen said Ali could still attend the Umno annual general assembly next week as a delegate, and vote in the party polls.
Ali, who has been the Malacca Chief Minister since 1999 and is an incumbent Umno vice-president, may appeal the disciplinary board’s ruling.
But Rithaudeen gave no guarantee that his appeal, if filed, would be heard or resolved in time before the elections.
In an immediate reaction, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is the incoming Umno president and prime-minister-in-waiting, said he hoped Ali would accept the decision with an open heart, Bernama reports.
He also urged Ali to continue contributing to the party’s struggle, adding that Ali would remain Malacca chief minister.
Khairy Khairy, too, was found guilty of the same offence under Article 10.1, but was given a warning because the nature of his agent’s offences was different from those committed by Ali’s agents.
“The punishment must fit the crime. There was a clear, strong link between Ali and his agents, but the link was not as strong between Khairy and his agents. Also, the circumstances of Khairy’s and Ali’s agents were different,” Rithaudeen said.
He gave the illustration of buying delegates a meal versus giving cash for votes. Both are election offences, but are not to be considered equal in nature.
“Khairy’s agents committed smaller offences as such,” Rithaudeen said.
And although Ali was not “caught red-handed”, he was unable to give the disciplinary board a satisfactory explanation, Rithaudeen added.
Khir, the third Umno Youth chief aspirant, was investigated for bribery, using agents and lobbyists to campaign for him, and for attending gatherings and functions other than those organised by the party headquarters.
“Not a setback”
In a phone interview with The Nut Graph, Khairy maintained his innocence, saying he had nothing to do with the “agent” found guilty of money politics, who had acted in his name.
“I maintain I have not done anything wrong. He was not my agent. I had nothing to do with him and I gave him no instruction,” Khairy said, adding that that was his defence during the tribunal hearing this morning.
The 33-year-old said he accepted the board’s decision to slap him with a warning, adding that he was thankful he was still allowed to contest for the Youth chief post in the party polls.
Khairy, who is the current Youth deputy chief, said the disciplinary warning was not a setback to his campaign for the chief’s post.
“In fact, I think my position has strengthened over the last couple of weeks,” he said.
“I think the delegates know me, and I will continue to engage them for the next seven days. The feedback I’m getting is that I’m still in the race.”
To a question if the actions by the disciplinary board appear to be aimed at people aligned to Abdullah, Khairy said the board acted according to the party constitution.
However, Khairy noted that the reports that have been lodged with the disciplinary board have had a “singular pattern of targeting certain people”.
The offence of money politics reported against Khairy was apparently committed in June 2008.
He was only issued a show cause letter on 12 March and asked to appear before the tribunal this morning.
Rithaudeen dismissed speculation that the action taken against Ali was meant to give Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin a clear shot at winning the deputy presidency. The International Trade and Industry Minister is said to be favoured by Najib.
“I loathe any attempt to interfere with our work. We are independent. Nobody interferes with us,” he said.
RithaudeenTo a question on whether Ali might have been “fixed up”, he interjected, “You can’t say that.”
Asked about the timing of the board’s decision which comes one week before the party elections, Rithaudeen said they had to be thorough in their investigations.
He also would not take questions on Datuk Seri Azalina Othman, who is vying for a seat in the supreme council, nor questions on which other candidates were still under investigation.
With Ali, 59, out of the contest, only Muhyiddin and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib will face-off for the party’s number two post. Whoever becomes deputy president is likely to become the deputy prime minister of Malaysia.
Ali had garnered 46 nominations to contest the post, compared with Muhyiddin’s 91 and Muhammad’s 46. In a recent Merdeka Centre poll, Muhyiddin was placed ahead of the race.
A total of 15 persons, including Ali and Khairy, were found guilty of breaching the party’s Code of Ethics today. Six people had their memberships suspended for three years and four for one year. Three others were given warnings.
Those found guilty included a state Youth chief, division chiefs and deputies including from the Wanita and Puteri wings, and committee members.