With Cadbury’s reputation melting away like chocolate in the sun and possible losses of millions of ringgits, Najib Abdul Razak has finally reined in his chocolate warriors. In an effort to calm investors’ nerves, he instructed senior officials to issue reassuring statements about the Cadbury chocolate scare.
These men touted a long list of problems; sample contamination, prolonged sample storage time, lack of laboratory accreditation, incompetent laboratory staff and shoddy laboratory practices.
If these issues about contamination and DNA integrity sound familiar, you are right. We have heard them all before, in the Anwar Ibrahim Sodomy II trial and the prosecution’s appeal.
Despite all the shortcomings of the laboratory tests in the Cadbury fiasco, we are told, “The public should trust Jakim”. So, if we are expected to accept the failures of the chemistry laboratory, and the reasons for sample contamination by incompetent chemists in the Cadbury chocolate tests, why is Anwar’s legal team unable to use the same arguments in his appeal? Surely what is good for the goose should be also good for the gander.
In trying to placate an angry Muslim public and dropping investor confidence, the excuses given by Najib’s officials may have compromised the government’s own position, in relation to the Anwar Sodomy II case.
What else should we know about bad laboratory samples and work practices? What goes on behind the scenes which could shake our confidence? Why should we trust Najib and the government departments under his control?
In the Cadbury debacle, what role did a junior health official play in leaking the chocolate results? No junior official does things without instruction from above. Similarly, what role did the investigating officer (IO), Jude Pereira play in Anwar’s prosecution?
Are the allegedly pork-tainted Cadbury chocolates a political or a business fix-up? This cannot be a simple case of nefarious NGOs flexing their muscles, especially as there is talk of a chocolate company investing RM800 million in a factory in Johor. Some Muslims are becoming more hostile in their “defence” of Islam, with wedding raids, child abductions and Bible confiscations.
Ten days after ugly scenes involving Muslim NGOs, which threatened to punish Cadbury with violence, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs Jamil Khir Baharom announced inUtusan Malaysia, that a new test from the same batch of Cadbury chocolates showed no trace of porcine DNA and that the samples had been contaminated.
He said, “The previous result which were conveyed to the Health Ministry recently may have been contaminated.”
Contamination of the chocolate samples had possibly occurred because the samples had not been taken directly from the Cadbury factory and Jamil said that contamination could occur “if someone who consumed pork sneezed near the sample or if the samples shared the same storage areas as pork products”.
‘Second test not done’
The following day, Deputy Minister Hilmi Yahaya of the Health Ministry said that a second test had not been done on the chocolate sample, to confirm the presence of porcine DNA.
He said, “...apparently, it was not done and they kept the result for so long, three months is too long, then after that (it) came out in social media, which we never sanctioned” (sic).
Although the ministry’s laboratory could perform the tests, Hilmi said that the facility was not accredited to check on halal status.
Contrast these with Anwar’s Sodomy II trial and appeal, when his lawyer gave a long list of reasons why the semen samples from the anus of the complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan were dodgy. If there is one lesson we must heed, it is that “If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt”.
Despite the arguments of Anwar’s defence team, at his appeal, the lead prosecutor, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, ignored them.
The DNA samples retrieved from the semen in Saiful’s anal cavity were in “pristine” condition, despite being 96 hours old, he submitted.
Degradation should have occurred with bacterial growth. Four days later, upon examination, the government chemist, Dr Seah Lay Hong, said that there was no degradation of the sample. Her response was that “degradation was of no concern to her”.
The Australian experts who gave evidence said that specimens which are collected 36 hours after the sexual act could not be relied on to give a good DNA analysis.
Anwar’s ‘Good Morning’ towel from the lock-up was contaminated and illegally obtained by the prosecution. Saiful’s rectal swab contained the DNA of a third male contributor.
Serious doubts were raised about the integrity of the samples and the manner in which they were stored. For over a day, the semen samples were simply put in a cabinet in the office of the IO. No explanation was given for the deviation from the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the treatment and storage of samples to be used as evidence. In a high profile case, like this, the SOP should have been followed particularly closely.
The plastic bag, holding the individual DNA sample containers, had been cut open. The receptacles did not have tamper-proof seals, so the containers could easily be opened and resealed. These lend doubt to the credibility which can be placed on the samples. Who would have had the opportunity and motive to cut open the plastic bag, holding the containers?
Why should we trust them now?
Why should the rakyat give Jakim and the Department of Health the benefit of the doubt? Why should we trust them now? They have repeatedly broken our confidence, in the past.
The problem of porcine DNA contamination has occurred several times before. We are not told what actually happened, how contamination occurred, and who was prosecuted. We are only told that the problem has been resolved.
That is why we demand to know the full details of pig DNA contamination which happened previously (Tabasco, Golden Churn butter, HP Sauce). Why should we allow ourselves, and legitimate businesses to be subject to blackmail in the future?
When it suits the government, the sample taken from Saiful’s bottom will be taken out of storage, and used to hound Anwar with the sole intention of compromising his political career, of breaking his will and that of the people whose only wish is to demand justice and good governance.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).