By Md Izwan
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 ― The police had sought to hide the injuries on the body of A. Kugan, a suspected car thief who died while under custody three years ago, witness N. Surendran told the High Court here today.
Surendran, who was the first witness to testify in the RM100 million negligence suit filed by Kugan’s mother N. Indra against the authorities, also told the court that the police had instructed the Serdang Hospital to forbid the youth’s family from viewing his body in the morgue on the night of January 20, 2009.
“I was shocked because an official at the mortuary told us that the police had prohibited us from seeing Kugan’s body,” he said in his written witness statement today.
The PKR vice president later added that the official only permitted the visits after pleas from Kugan’s family members and those who had gathered at the hospital that night.
“What happened next?” Indra’s lead counsel, R. Sivarasa, asked.
“The condition of Kugan’s body was terrible: blood was seen flowing from his nose and mouth, and he was foaming,” Surendran replied.
The lawyer-cum-politician also accused the police of refusing to co-operate when a second autopsy on the youth’s body was called for, pointing out that they did not issue a request letter to the hospital.
“I called the Subang Jaya district police chief ACP Zainal Rashid Au Bakar to seek help but he rejected the request for the second autopsy,” he said.
But despite the police’s refusal, Universiti Malaya Medical Centre’s pathologist Dr Prashant N. Samberkar later conducted the second post-mortem, following public pressure on the case.
It was after the second post-mortem that it was confirmed that Kugan had died from kidney failure that resulted from the beatings he had received from the police while under custody.
Taking the stand after Surendran later this morning, Indra, 44, concurred with the former’s witness statement and told the court that she believed the police had ordered hospital officials to stop others from viewing Kugan’s bruised body.
On January 14 this year, Indra filed a suit against Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, who was then the Selangor CPO; ACP Zainal Rashid; police constable V. Navindran; the Inspector-General of Police; and the government, for negligence and breach of statutory duty.
In her statement of claim, she alleged that all the defendants had failed to ensure the safety and health of her son Kugan, who was in police custody from January 14 to 20, 2009, before succumbing to his assault injuries.
She also accused the defendants of an attempted cover-up, claiming that statements issued from them were largely designed to exonerate the police from blame or liability.
Indra is seeking RM100 million in general and exemplary damages, costs and any other relief deemed fit by the court.
In June this year, Navindran was sentenced by a Shah Alam Sessions Court to three years’ jail for each of two counts of causing hurt to Kugan.
Navindran was accused of two alternative counts of causing hurt to Kugan, 23, at the interrogation room of the Taipan police station in USJ, Subang Jaya, at 7am and 4pm on January 16, 2009.
He was initially acquitted of the charges but the High Court later overturned the acquittal and ordered him to enter his defence.
Over 1,500 custodial deaths took place in Malaysia between 2003 and 2007, as estimated by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Few are ever pinned on the authorities under whose watch the fatalities took place.
The spotlight on custodial deaths grew more acute following Kugan’s death.
Kugan’s death was initially classified as sudden death and attributed to water in his lungs, according to an initial post-mortem report.
However, the case was reclassified as murder following a public outcry.
Eleven rank and file policemen were transferred to desk duty at the Selangor police headquarters but only one person — Navindran — was charged over the incident.