Returning the loot to thieves – the law is an ass

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In Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, when the character, Mr Bumble is informed that “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”, Mr Bumble replies: “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass – an idiot.”

Today’s column is not on hen-pecked husbands but what is law perceived and supposed in a couple of make-believe situations.

Supposing I am a crook who has stolen billions from the people. In my possession, I have luxury goods, jewels and hard cash in currencies of different countries which runs into millions.

The long arm of the law caught up with me and my wife. They took away part of the wealth we had accumulated and both have been indicted on several criminal offences and the state has filed civil suits seeking the return of the riches so that it can be added on to its coffers.

In the meantime, the government seeks to forfeit all those ill-gotten riches. So, they go and seek an order from the court so that they get to keep what they had seized.

But the court said that the onus is on the claimant, in this case, the state to prove that I accumulated all the wealth from illicit and illegal activities.

Although it is common knowledge that the wealth was not inherited and neither could I have earned that kind of money during our working lives, the court then tells the state: “Please produce evidence to show that the money was the proceeds from something illegal.”

For a good measure, it meant that if you can’t show proof, they can get to keep everything. Does it mean criminals can keep their loot while the victims weep in pain and suffering? Yes, something like that.

If you are just an ordinary joe with no titles, status or position – past or present – could it be a different story? What if you don’t have a battery of lawyers and the money to fight the forfeiture order?

But before that, probably a public parade in purple or orange for the TV cameras would be the start, and perhaps a week or so incarnated with food and boarding paid by the state.

But wouldn’t any anti-corruption body use its powers to ask you to declare your source of income? Or will the taxman come after you asking you to pay your portion of the wealth in your possession?

If you are a politician, you can always plead: “Your honour, it was a political donation meant for the party.”

Isn’t the law an ass?

Mysterious deposits

Mr A had about RM1 million in a bank in a foreign country and the source of that money was and still remains a mystery.

The money was deposited in small amounts (for whatever reasons) through cash deposit machines that are dotted around that country.

Those who deposited the money were unknown to him and bank officials and as the account starts to swell, an alert bank manager calls the cops.

“I say, mate, there’s some fishy business going on. We are getting dribs and drabs of money and it is being deposited anonymously to one single account. It looks suspicious and could be money laundering,” says the banker.

The account is flagged and the incessant flow of money continues and is keenly watched. A check on the systems shows that Mr A is a senior police officer in his country.

So, a polite note is exchanged between the police chiefs of the two countries. It simply said: “Can you get Mr A to come over and explain things? We just want to elucidate some answers to these mysterious deposits.”

The media in both countries go to town with the story and hopefully, get some truthful answers. The silence became deafening but Mr A’s boss says: “He had explained everything to us. He has a son studying there and opened an account there and the money in that account are proceeds from the sale of his house.”

But isn’t it the usual and proper practice for the buyer to get his solicitor to send the money to his solicitor, who will, in turn, deposit the money in Mr A’s bank account?

But when did he buy the house and where did the money come from? No one knows and the mystery can only be solved if Mr A opens his mouth.

But Mr A didn’t. Neither did he travel or offer any other plausible explanation, and interestingly, he just allowed the money to be forfeited. The parting shot was: “I don’t need it. You can keep my money.”

If it was ordinary joe, there would have been an extradition process, he would be strutted in handcuffs through the offices to the courts and probably put on the next flight, and arrested and charged upon disembarkation for money laundering.

But no, there are different strokes for different folks.

Isn’t the law an ass?

R NADESWARAN looks at two imaginary scenarios, interprets, analyses and draws his own conclusions.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.