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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The banker and the politician

Mariam Mokhtar | May 20, 2011

Both were accused of sexual assault – one by a hotel chambermaid, the other by his maid.

What do a French banker and a Malaysian politician have in common? The brilliant economist, Dominique Strauss-Kahn assumed office as the tenth Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Nov 1, 2007.

The 62-year-old Frenchman is also a lawyer and former Socialist finance minister. He graduated from Paris’ top business and political schools with a law degree, and economics Phd.

Strauss-Kahn is known to be the clear favourite to beat French President, Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012. Privately, Strauss-Kahn feared he would be subjected to a smear campaign by the president and his Interior Minister.

Rais Yatim, is Malaysia’s Minister of Information, Communication and Culture. The 69-year-old is a lawyer by profession and obtained his PhD from King’s College London.

In 2007 Malaysia nominated Rais, who was then the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, to replace the outgoing Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon, whose term would have expired in March 2008.

Rais was strongly tipped to be the first secretary-general from Asia and countries like Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand, supported Malaysia’s bid.

But hours after discussing the campaign strategy at a Cabinet meeting, Rais withdrew his candidacy.

Both the Cabinet and government were shocked. The proper procedure, which is that the government would announce changes in the bid, had not been adhered to.

So what do these two men, Strauss-Kahn and Rais, have in common?

Both were accused of sexual assault – one by a hotel chambermaid, the other by his maid.

The critical difference is in the way these two men handled the serious charges made against them.

Different reactions

The global finance boss was arrested on an Air France flight, minutes before it was to take-off. Strauss-Kahn who was accused of attempted rape has quit as head of the IMF. The IMF has been thrown into disarray but in a statement, Strauss-Kahn declared he would “devote all my strength, all my time, and all my energy to proving my innocence”.

Hours after resigning, Strauss-Kahn appealed the decision to remand him in custody as prosecutors were fearful that he would escape like the film director Roman Polanski, who fled to France in 1977 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Nevertheless, Strauss-Kahn was prepared to be confined to his daughter’s home in Manhattan and wear an electronic ankle tag so his movements could be monitored and he could not leave the city.

Strauss-Kahn was also prepared to give up the protection against extradition given by France to its citizens: “I voluntarily waive all extradition proceeding of every kind and character”.

Back in 2007, was Rais’ abrupt departure from the Commonwealth race because he had been allegedly accused of raping his Indonesian maid?

The statement by Migrant Care, dated Aug 1, 2007, had called for a thorough investigation into the alleged rape. The incident happened in 2007. The victim, a maid from Indonesia, had worked for a “Malaysian senior minister” from “the ruling party” for eight years.

It was after the disclosures by WikiLeaks and various bloggers, that the minister allegedly accused of rape has been identified as Rais.

The maid subsequently released a statement denying the rape allegation. There has been speculation that she has been offered money or else been threatened.

Rais too has denied the allegation and has sued a blogger for defamation over a posting about the rape allegation.

However, four months after the Indonesian maid denied that she was raped by Rais, police appear to be harassing NGO Tenaganita for reproducing a media statement on the allegation.

Latheefa Koya, the lawyer for Tenaganita’s executive director, Irene Fernandez, wanted to know if the police had investigated the allegation, instead of focusing on the media statement.

Latheefa said, “Have the police done the investigation to conclude that it is a ‘defamation’ as stated in their letter (to Irene)? Have they questioned Rais and Migrant Care?

“If the investigation had been done, they should go after Migrant Care. Why question Irene?”

According to sources, the Indonesian NGO, Migrant Care has not retracted or denied its original statement.

Latheefa stressed that the police should not stop their investigation into the rape allegation just because the maid had denied it: “Because a victim is vulnerable and traumatised, it doesn’t mean that you should stop the investigation if the victim keeps quiet or retracts the allegation”.

Only in Malaysia…

Anyone who feels he has been wrongly and maliciously accused of rape, will take action immediately.

This is what Stauss-Kahn did. He acted swiftly.

However, Rais only denied the rape allegations many months after the maid’s denial. By this time, the rape had been intensely discussed on blogs and websites.

The ‘decadent west’ is not averse to prosecuting those in positions of power and responsibility. Anyone who is guilty of a crime, irrespective of his position in society, will be brought to justice.

In Malaysia, we are lucky to get past the police report stage. And it would be like striking the lottery, to get a conviction.

In Malaysia, when a woman says ‘no’, her wishes are ignored and she is subjected to sexual assault.

In Malaysia, complainants (and those who assist an investigation) are beaten up, or disappear or get thrown out of windows of skyscrapers.

In Malaysia, there is no political will to prosecute our politicians, especially if they belong to the ruling party. However, the same does not hold true for Opposition politicians, who are subjected to one charge after another.

In Malaysia, politicians escape prosecution after allegations of sexual assault. The one allegedly involving Rais is serious, but the Cabinet has been silent. No one from the Cabinet has said that Rais’ scandal has tarnished parliament. They have not asked him to resign to clear his name, and he has not volunteered to resign. It is business as usual for the Cabinet.

Many will recall how a former Chief Minister of Malacca raped a minor, for which someone else was jailed for a totally unconnected reason. The government appears to ignore the rights of children but happily rewards its sexual deviants.

In Malaysia, women’s groups wonder when its government will seriously address sexual harassment.

In Malaysia, BN politicians adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude and believe they are the victims of media intrusion.

Instead of doing the right thing to clear their names, BN politicians sue those whom they believe have ‘hurt their feelings’.

Mariam Mokhtar is a political observer and an FMT columnist.

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