BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The former head of the Royal Brunei Police Force’s (RBPF) Major Crimes Investigation Unit was convicted on corruption charges Thursday, after a year-long trial that exposed a complex web of abuse of power and secret dealings with organised crime syndicates in Brunei and Malaysia.

The court found that Superintendent Hj Khairur Rijal Hj Abu Salim corruptly accepted a Toyota Hilux from prominent Malaysian contractor Liew Say Koo, in exchange for facilitating his re-entry into Brunei, after he was expelled following a 2007 conviction for killing his wife in a domestic violence incident.

During trial, the defendant claimed Liew was a police informant whom he “borrowed” the Hilux from over three years to use as an unmarked car for surveillance and police raids.

In his 15 years as a police officer, Hj Khairur led several covert operations for the RBPF, and claimed he used Liew to extract information on gambling and vice activities run by crime syndicates in Brunei, which had links to Miri gangsters.

In a marathon judgment delivered at the Magistrate’s Court — which lasted four hours — presiding magistrate Muhammed Faisal PDJLD DSP Hj Kefli said he did not find the defendant’s argument credible, describing how Hj Khairur modified the vehicle by painting it and adding accessories, indicating it was for his personal use.

“It is not credible that car could go undetected by crime syndicates, it was modified to stand out, not blend in,” he said to a packed courtroom.

The magistrate also recounted testimony from the defendant’s superiors, who said they had no knowledge of him requesting a special visitor pass from immigration for Liew, on the basis he was an informant.

The letters sent to immigration requesting re-entry for Liew, who was barred from Brunei following his two-year prison sentence, were never authorised by the director of the Criminal Investigation Department or the police commissioner.

Magistrate Faisal added that of the 36 requests sent to immigration between 2011 and 2013, 14 of those applications were sent while Hj Khairur was abroad on in-service training.

He said while Liew did supply the defendant with some information on illegal activities, his role as an informant was “exaggerated” and that the former did not infiltrate crime syndicates as the defence claimed because he was only a figure “on the periphery”.

The return of information does not justify the efforts the defendant took, the judge said. Police witnesses also said it would have been unethical for Hj Khairur to borrow a car from an informant for police operations, since he was his “handler” and also the investigating officer in his 2007 manslaughter conviction.

Court defers sentencing

In his mitigation before the court Thursday, Hj Khairur said he had performed “beyond the call of duty” in his 15 years as a police officer and received several commendations from the police commissioner.

He was arrested in 2015 and has remained in detention for four years through an order made under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which gives the State powers of preventative detention.

The 42-year-old added that while under ISA detention, he had limited access to evidence and legal counsel, calling the Anti-Corruption Bureau investigation “biased and prejudicial”. He discharged his defence counsel, Roy Prabhakaran, mid-way through trial.

The court said it would take two weeks from Thursday to consider its sentence, as uncertainty remains over whether the defendant will be kept under ISA detention.

“Under any circumstances this would be considered unfair,” said Hj Khairur. “Any man would say so.”

Meanwhile, Liew Say Koo, who is the managing director of the Say Koo (Liew) construction company and L & E Contractor, was sentenced to 18 months for his role in abetting corrupt dealings.

Prabhakaran, who continued to represent Liew throughout the trial, said his client suffered from anxiety and impulse control disorders and was deprived of medication while in prison.

Since Liew has also been incarcerated since his 2015 arrest — albeit under court-ordered remand and not ISA —  he has effectively served his time. He will be handed over to immigration for deportation back to Malaysia.

The prosecution in the case was represented by Prosecuting Officer Shamshuddin Hj Kamaluddin and Deputy Public Prosecutor Pg Nor’Azmeena Pg Hj Mohiddin.