An ABC journalist and cameraman have been told they will not be charged over an incident with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, only hours after they were told to face court.
Four Corners reporter Linton Besser and cameraman Louie Eroglu had questioned Mr Najib during a public event in Kuching over a corruption scandal, and police had claimed they had crossed a security cordon — an allegation they deny.
Last night, Besser and Eroglu were told they would likely be charged with obstructing a public servant in the discharge of their duties.
If they were found guilty of the charge they could have faced two years in prison.
But three hours after the pair were given the order to appear in court on Tuesday morning, their lawyer was called by police and told no charges would be filed and they may be able to leave the country this morning.
Besser questioned Mr Razak as he walked into a mosque on Saturday night, asking the Prime Minister why hundreds of millions of dollars had been deposited into his bank account.
The pair were surrounded by the Prime Minister’s security team and then allowed to leave, before later being arrested and questioned for six hours in a police station.
Their passports were taken and later returned, but they were told not to leave the country while their case was investigated.
Yesterday the lawyer for the ABC pair, Albert Tang, said he received a call from Ng Ahlek, the superintendent of police for Malaysia’s Padawan District, telling him to bring his clients to court at 8:30am (local time) so they could be charged.
“When asked who made the decision to institute the charge against my clients, he said it was the Attorney-General who made the decision,” Mr Tang said on Monday.
Mr Tang said normally those decisions were made by a local deputy public prosecutor.
“I suppose this is being regarded as a high-profile case, that is why the Attorney-General himself is making the decision,” he said.
‘The lawyer was called and told it’s all off’
ABC South East Asia correspondent Adam Harvey said there was “elation” at the hotel where the Four Corners pair were staying after news they would not be charged.
He said it was not clear why there had been a change of heart.
“The lawyer was called in the middle of the night and told it’s all off you don’t have to go to the court,” he said.
“What you’ll need to do is bring the ABC team to a police station here where we’ll do some paperwork and hopefully a few hours after that they’ll be able to leave Malaysia, which was just not looking like happening any time soon just a few hours ago.”
ABC News director Gaven Morris has previously denied the allegations that were made about the behaviour of Besser and Eroglu at the event in Kuching.
“I can tell you that at no time did our journalists obstruct or intend to obstruct any public servants in performance of their duties,” Mr Morris said in a statement yesterday.
“They did not see a police line and do not believe they crossed one. They stopped filming and left the event as soon as they were asked. They fully cooperated with the police before and after their arrest.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has said Australia’s High Commissioner in Malaysia is in contact with the pair.