COMMENT In a democracy, quasi or full-fledged, a certain mystique clings to people who wield power in an investigative/prosecutorial role but are impervious to the scrutiny the system invites.

NONEOf attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail, the aura of invulnerability that has congealed around him resembles that which surrounded J Edgar Hoover, legendary director of the FBI in the US, whose capacity to ferret secrets and devious deployment of them against detractors made him a feared operator in the corridors of power.

Hoover was indispensable to five US presidents before a sixth, faced with a decision to cashier him on his reaching the mandatory retirement age, played safe by extending tenure.

Lyndon Johnson's reason for his decision enjoys an imperishable niche in a compendium of salty putdowns: "It is better to have him (Hoover) inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

For a long time now, the powers that reside in Abdul Gani's position as legal adviser to the government, combined with his powerful role as the last word on who to prosecute and on what grounds, has been the object of public unease and criticism from legal and other circles.

Detractors have clamoured for a bifurcation between the roles of government legal adviser and crown prosecutor, arguing that their entwining engenders bias: an adviser to the government on legal matters would not be able to enjoy the requisite detachment from government's interests required of the person when deciding who to prosecute.

Target of concentrated volleys

Attorney-generals from Abu Talib Othman, in the 1980s, to Abdul Gani, in recent times, have come in for fire on the assumed anomaly of their roles as adviser-cum-prosecutor.

Abdul Gani, in particular, has been the target of concentrated volleys because of alleged machinations in murky subplots that supposedly underlay the prosecution of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim for corruption and abuse of power and then for sodomy in 1998 and 1999. Anwar was again charged for sodomy in 2008.

On the sodomy charges, Anwar was freed on appeal after serving a long spell in jail in the first case and he was acquitted in the second case.

In both cases, Abdul Gani had significant roles, though he was not yet the AG on the first occasion when Anwar was charged for sodomy.

ramli yusuff asset declare case 120310 05Senior police officers Mat Zain Ibrahim and Ramli Yusuff (centre in photo), both now retired, have publicly called for an investigation of Abdul Gani based on what they claimed was documented proof purportedly showing that the AG had engaged in criminal conduct in cases ranging from Anwar's black eye incident to matters having to do with the detention and eventual freeing of an alleged kingpin of gaming rackets in Johor.

These accusations have been dismissed by de facto law minister Mohd Nazri Aziz as hoary and discredited canards, with nothing going for them save the rancour of those deploying them.

It has become a hallowed jurisprudential tenet that what must be done with all deliberate speed must also be seen to be done.

In other words, the wheels of justice must not only churn to deliver the goods of justice but must also, in the public reckoning, actually be seen to do so: deliverance has a vital pedagogic aspect.

The Najib Razak administration is quite impervious to the imperatives of these jurisprudential norms except when it suits them.

This attitude, from the premiership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad on down, has helped to forge around tribunes like Abdul Gani a shell of invulnerability that can only be threatened by insurgencies from within rather than attacking incursions from without.

Rift in the AG's Chambers

Thus when someone like the government prosecutor of Anwar in his second trial for sodomy, Mohd Yusof Zainal Abiden, joins the opposition leader's legal team for the latter's defence against charges arising from the Bersih protest of April 28, a frisson of anticipation courses through the veins of a watching public.

One hesitates to suggest that anything other than professional motives influenced Mohd Yusof's decision to join Anwar's legal team over the Bersih 3.0 contretemps.

NONELast February, Mohd Yusof (right) retired from the Attorney-General's Chambers, headed by Abdul Gani, to go into private practice, so his taking up legal cudgels now on behalf of private client Anwar should be no skin off Abdul Gani's nose.

Right? Well, yes, but what about word on two occasions in the past about a rift between Abdul Gani and Mohd Yusof that may have required the intervention of a prime minister or two to steer matters away from a wobbly course in the AG's Chambers.

Rumours abound on the beltway and there are no empirically good grounds to believe - though the speculation strengthens with time - that in Malaysia rumours are true unless expressly shown to be false.

No doubt, Mohd Yusof joining Anwar's legal team has now become a favoured topic in the political salons of the country, causing consternation in BN quarters and triumphalism in Pakatan Rakyat's.

It is an intriguing transition for Mohd Yusof - from prosecutor in Anwar's second trial for sodomy to attorney for his defence over Anwar's allegedly illegal conduct during Bersih 3.0.

It would be akin to, say, the prosecutor in the sexual battery case against Dominic Strauss-Kahn in New York last year (the case was dropped) joining Strauss-Kahn's defence team in Paris where now the former International Monetary Fund chief is facing gang rape charges.

Abdul Gani has gone on record to deny that there was a rift between him and Mohd Yusof. Could this denial be pre-emptive positioning by the AG to steal a potential detractor's thunder?

Suffice the legal-political arena is in for intriguing times.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.