Malaysia extends term of chief justice despite controversy

KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 (AFP) - A leading opposition figure Monday criticised the Malaysian government's decision to extend the chief justice's term of office despite a controversy over his holiday meeting with a prominent lawyer.
Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, called on Chief Justice Eusoff Chin to decline the six-month extension "to spare the judiciary from further embarrassment."

The government said Eusoff, who Tuesday reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 for a chief justice, had had his term extended for six months.

Eusoff has come in for criticism over a holiday meeting in New Zealand in December 1994 with top lawyer V.K.Lingam, who is representing tycoon Vincent Tan in an appeal case heard by a panel headed by the chief justice.

Photographs of the meeting have been posted on the Internet for the last two years.

But comments by Rais Yatim, the minister reponsible for legal affairs, reopened the controversy. Rais, in an Australian interview last month, described Eusoff's conduct in socialising with the lawyer as "improper."

Eusoff has hit back, saying his meeting with Lingam was a chance one and producing documents to show he paid for his holiday himself.

The Bar Council, representing 9,000 lawyers, plans to hold a debate Friday on whether a tribunal should be formed to investigate Eusoff's conduct. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has criticised the lawyers' move as politically motivated.

Recent media reports have disputed the claim that Eusoff's meeting with Lingam was a chance one, although it has not been suggested that anyone other than Eusoff paid for his holiday.

Lim said in a statement that Eusoff's silence in the face of these reports "is not conducive" to the restoration of confidence in the judiciary.

He said Eusoff should decline the extension "because of his inability to clear the cloud" created by the holiday meeting.