Corruption trials and public interest


Okaz newspaper

COLUMNIST Dr. Turki Al-Hamad in one of his articles expressed his opinion on the arrests of some princes, businessmen and officials involved in corruption and their accommodation in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.

Al-Hamad expressed his reservation on the plan to release these individuals without trial if they return part of the embezzled public money. His article has gone viral on social media.

Professor Al-Hamad compared corruption with conventional thefts and said the thieves would not be exempted from punishment just for giving back the money and any valuables they had robbed to their victims.

His example may look logical on the outset but we will soon realize that it is inaccurate if we discuss the general philosophy behind the idea of crime and punishment.

It is actually more linked to serving public interest than punishing the offender. However, the attorney general, who is entrusted with the task of protecting security of the people and implementing the law, will determine what is best in the interest of the country.

The example cited by Abu Tariq (Al-Hamad) is not precise. We should know that ordinary theft comes come under private rights that cannot be relinquished by the state.

Moreover, ordinary thefts and robberies cannot be compared to corruption in complicated financial transactions involving several individuals and legal entities within the Kingdom and abroad and often involve highly complex money laundering cases.

These are complex crimes like terrorism, human trafficking, drug smuggling, money laundering and official corruption that cannot be committed by private individuals and must be dealt with professionally by investigation agencies. Such investigations will not focus on a particular defendant, but on interconnected crime cells.

At the same time, each individual defendant must be dealt with a high degree of flexibility. Investigation agencies should also make use of individual defendants to uncover sleeping and hidden cells and expose other individuals or entities involved in the crime.

All these efforts will ultimately lead to expanding the crackdown on corrupt individuals and prevent them from escaping. This brings us back to the purpose of imposing deterrent punishment for crimes, which is to protect public interest. The Public Prosecution may find it useful to reconcile with the defendants if it leads to bringing back hundreds of millions of riyals to the state coffers.

This move is significant especially as the suspects have smuggled the embezzled money out of the country and which will be difficult to recover without the defendant’s cooperation.

Here, the benefit to be gained by the state is greater than the imprisonment of a corrupt individual. At the same time, the country will not make any major gains from the probable imprisonment of a corrupt person after protracted court proceedings and trials, which may not result in conviction because of the complex nature of the cases, as these cases are difficult to prove in the courts of law with the support of material evidence.

The best example is the trial of people responsible for escalating the effects of the Jeddah floods almost a decade ago and everybody knows its outcome. This does not mean total dismissal of all judicial proceedings against the corrupt, but the experimentation of a parallel way of reconciliation for the benefit of the people and the state instead of leveling charges and counter-charges ultimately leading to punishment or acquittal.

Many countries have already implemented this method and we read about such legendary trials that have taken place in some countries, where the prosecution agrees to commute or drop the charges against the accused in exchange of cooperation or providing leads for the arrest of suspects still on the run. The arrests of the fugitives will have greater benefit than catching the small fish from an ocean full of big whales.

The Supreme Committee Against Corruption under the chairmanship of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, which was constituted by a royal decree to investigate corruption, is exempted from all existing regulations. It has been given wide powers and freedom to take appropriate action to protect public interest. It is an unconventional committee that investigates unconventional crimes with the help of unconventional means and mechanisms.