Cover Story

The Curious Case of Teoh Beng Hock – by Chung Hosanna

Unwittingly thrust into the limelight in the whirlwind events following her brother’s unfortunate death while in the custody of the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC), Teoh Lee Lan is a reluctant public figure.Frequent public appearances have not taken away her nervousness in public. Her hesitant on-camera demeanor reveals the bewilderment of a simple girl-next-door who became an instant famous face and headline-hogging name when images of the weeping Lee Lan and her grief-stricken family percolated through print and broadcast media following Teoh Beng Hock’s death.

The senseless death of the 28-year-old political aide – a day before he was to register his marriage with his pregnant fiancée – has since sparked passionate public outrage and pushed his sister Lee Lan to demand for answers. For the love of her late brother, this soft-spoken, demure accountant from Alor Gajah has stepped up into a vocal role, not of her own choosing.

“I am grateful that my boss allowed me leave from work to attend the inquest. During the job interview, I was frank with him about needing flexible leave and I also assured him that it would not affect my job performance. He has been supportive and I’m very grateful for that,” she said.

Plucked from the comfortable cocoon of a doting family, the naïve existence of this youngest child among four siblings was shattered by her brother’s death. Obscurity and anonymity are no longer options for her, given the intense media scrutiny the Teoh family faces.

More than a year after Teoh Beng Hock was found dead, 14,000 odd signatures have been collected by the group “Malaysians for Beng Hock”; and over 22,000 by the group “Justice for Beng Hock” in a petition calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate into the cause of death.

Many other similar civil society initiatives have intensified in the wake of the official inquest decision of an “open verdict”, reflecting deep-seated public dissatisfaction at the verdict. Ruling out suicide and homicide, the baffling decision has coined cynical terms such as “MACCidental death” and sparked online ridicule with videos of DPP Abdul Razak Musa demonstrating his theory of Teoh’s self-strangulation going viral. The Facebook page Nasi Lemak 2020’s 4-part parody video of Bruce Lee demanding justice for Teoh Beng Hock, has garnered over 100,000 hits each.

Despite the cabinet’s later and reluctant decision – bowing to widespread pressure – to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the MACC’s interrogation of Teoh and the circumstances surrounding his death, overwhelming public interest and controversy continues to shroud the Beng Hock mystery like a transfixed audience spinning conspiracy theories in a whodunit film.

This is the second bleak Chinese New Year the inconsolable Teoh family spent in Melaka. No festive cheer or celebratory moods for them; although two new members have joined the family – Teoh’s widow Soh Cher Wei and his son, Er Jia. The baby’s birth was a bittersweet respite for a family that remains unplacated and distrustful of official investigations, perceived by them to be a case of too little, too late.

Now nearly a year old, little Er Jia who lives with his mother Soh Cher Wei’s family in Batu Pahat, has been the driving force for Lee Lan’s quest for answers about her brother’s death.“Until the day the truth is found, people will continue to rub salt into our wounds. I do not wish Er Jia to suffer this pain when he grows up.” Her eyes redden but she does not cry; tears will not bring her brother back.

“Beng Hock loved children. Our house is filled with photos of him holding little children. But he never had the chance to hold his own child.”

Likening her brother’s death in the custody of the MACC to a child dying in daycare, Lee Lan’s plaintive question is compelling, yet unanswerable. “Wouldn’t the parents demand an answer from those in charge of the daycare centre?”Her gentle features harden and her voice steels in explaining the uphill battle they have been fighting.“Everyone has the right to know the truth. When someone dies in your custody, you have to be accountable for it. That’s what any responsible person should do.” -The Rocket