KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 — The Malaysian Bar Council demanded today that Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) withdraw its threat against ex-airman N. Tharmendran’s lawyer.

The Bar Council President Ragunath Kesavan said in a statement that the RMAF had crossed the line when it interfered and gave intimidating “advice”.

“The RMAF’s blatant demand that lawyer N Surendran advise his client to surrender, failing which he should turn his client in or otherwise face potential criminal proceedings, is an explicit and unambiguous threat.

“It is an appalling and unacceptable interference in a solicitor-client relationship,”  he said.

The lawyer, whose client has been accused of stealing two F5-E jet engines, has been served an ‘Air Force’ letter saying he may be criminally liable for abetting a deserter.

Received on October 29, it claims Tharmendran remains on active duty till May 28, 2011.

The letter, signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Mohd Razif Ramli on behalf of the air force chief, asked Surendran to advice his client to report back to service within seven days or face criminal proceedings under Section 135 and 136 of the Penal Code.

The punishment for abetting or harbouring a deserter under either section is a two-year prison sentence or a fine or both.

Lawyers for Liberty, which Surendran is part of, issued a press statement that the letter amounted to “serious and unprecedented interference” with a lawyer’s duties.

Ragunath claimed it’s an “intolerable incursion” on the Bar’s independence and Surendran’s freedom to advise the client without any fear or favour.

“It is an intimidating manoeuvre that encroaches upon the ability of a lawyer to perform his duties effectively and to the best of his ability,” he said.

The Bar president emphasised that both litigants and their lawyers should be protected from any form of intimidation to “take any matter to the courts for determination”.

He said regardless of allegations made against him, the accused is entitled to the presumption that he is innocent until proven guilty, without any harassment or threat against his legal counsel.

“The Malaysian Bar calls on the RMAF to immediately withdraw its demand, and to allow N Surendran to carry out his professional duty without hindrance,” he demanded.

Tharmendran and company director K. Rajandran Prasad were jointly charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court on January 6 in connection with the theft of the missing F5-E jet engines.

Tharmendran is accused of stealing the engines in December 2007 at the Subang RMAF air base.

He was also charged with conspiring in the theft with senior airman Mohamad Shukri Mohamad Yusop at the material processing shed at the Sungai Besi RMAF base.

He was arrested on September 1 last year, and if convicted faces up to 10 years’ jail and a fine.

Rajandran is accused of disposing of the engines on April 30, 2008.

By Melissa Chi, The Malaysian Insider