KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — On Tuesday (February 12), as fixed earlier, the High Court here is scheduled to begin the hearing of cases involving former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who has been slapped with dozens of charges relating to money laundering, criminal breach of trust (CBT) and corruption.
Najib, the sixth prime minister of Malaysia, is the first (prime minister) to find himself in the dock of a court.
The court charges against Najib, 66, who was prime minister from April 2009 to May 2018, has drawn worldwide attention as his case has been described as “the worst kleptocracy scandal ever” and are mostly related to scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Both the Malaysian public and the international community have been transfixed by the scandal.
As of Friday (February 8), Najib has been charged in court six times on 42 counts of criminal charges. The former Barisan Nasional chairman and former Umno president has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Najib, who is also Pekan Member of Parliament, was first brought to the Sessions Court here on July 4, 2018 to face three counts of CBT and one count of abuse of power in connection with SRC International Sdn Bhd funds totalling RM42 million.
The Kuala Lumpur Court Complex was packed with local and international media as they did not want to miss out on capturing photos of Najib and stories, as they were certainly “earth-shattering” material.
On August 8, he was charged again in the Sessions Court on three counts of money laundering involving the same amount of the same funds.
High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali has fixed 33 days, from February 12 to February 28 and March 4 to 29, for the trial of Najib’s seven charges involving SRC International funds.
Despite attempts by Najib’s defence team led by lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdulah to have the trial adjourned pending an appeal on the withdrawal of the certificate of transfer (to the High Court) by Najib, Attorney General Tommy Thomas had on February 7 informed the judge that the prosecution was ready to commence the prosecution’s case on February 12.
“Witness statements have been served on the defence and subpoenas have also been served to witnesses,” he said, adding that as a matter of fact, the prosecution had complied with the regulations under Section 51A of the Criminal Procedure Code pertaining to delivery of documents.
Sources told Bernama that the prosecution is ready with nine witnesses to testify on the first day of the trial and among them government officers.
“We have on standby nine witnesses but it depends on how the trial goes on the day. We have also prepared witness statements and after the witnesses read out their statements, the defence would cross-examine them,” the sources said when asked on the proceedings during the trial.
The sources also said that whether the trial will proceed or not on Tuesday, would depend on Najib’s appeal to stay the trial, which is scheduled to be heard tomorrow afternoon at the Court of Appeal.
Najib sought to stay the trial relating to his seven charges pending the outcome of the appellate court’s decision on his appeal pertaining to the withdrawal of the certificate of transfer by the public prosecutor.
Mohd Nazlan had on February 7, allowed an application by Thomas to withdraw the certificate to transfer the seven charges against Najib from the Sessions Court to the High Court.
Thomas informed the court that the prosecution made the move due to the Federal Court’s decisions in the Semenyih Jaya (2017) and M. Indira Gandhi (2018) cases, which raised a doubt in respect of the exercise of the powers by the public prosecutor to transfer a case from the Sessions Court to the High Court.
“I will now withdraw the certificate I issued to avoid any possible argument that the transfer is a nullity,” Thomas said.
Najib subsequently filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal on February 7 in a bid to set aside the High Court ruling granting the public prosecutor’s request to withdraw the certificate of transfer.
Sources also informed that tomorrow, the prosecution would apply to transfer the three additional charges of money laundering faced by Najib on February 8, 2019, from the Sessions Court to the High Court.
“We also will ask for the three additional charges to be jointly tried with the other three counts of money laundering which were brought earlier in court on August 8, as it involves the same funds (SRC International),” the sources said.
On February 8, Najib had pleaded not guilty to three counts of money laundering involving RM27 million of SRC International’s funds.
Earlier, on January 28, Najib was charged with the same charges in the High Court but on February 7, Thomas had withdrawn the charges and asked for Najib to be given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal and the next day (February 8), Najib was re-charged on the same charges in the Sessions Court.
The prosecution brought the additional charges against Najib in the High Court under Section 91 of Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act (AMLATFPUAA) 2001. The section among others means that an additional charge against an accused can be brought at any court (either High Court or Sessions Court).
The prosecution withdrew the three additional charges and re-charged Najib in the Sessions Court based on procedural grounds.
The money laundering case originated from the Sessions Court and the prosecution should have mentioned the case at the Sessions Court before transferring it to the High Court. However, under Section 91 of AMLATFPUAA, the prosecution can bring an additional charge against an accused in the High Court.
The prosecution has submitted over 3,000 pages of documents including minutes of meetings of SRC International, witness documents and other related documents to the defence team in the course of the proceedings.
The prosecution will also call 50 witnesses to testify during the trial. As the case originated from the Sessions Court, the prosecution had applied to transfer the case to a higher court as the High Court has wider jurisdiction and if the case begins at the High Court, the appeals could be heard until the Federal Court, (and) if there is any complex legal issues, it will be resolved at the Federal Court.
Senior lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah was appointed as Senior DDP by the Attorney General’s Chambers to lead the prosecution team in Najib’s SRC International cases and prominent criminal lawyer Datuk V. Sithambaram was appointed to assist the team. DPPs Datuk Ishak Mohd Yusoff, Budiman Lutfi Mohamed and Muhammad Izzat Fauzan are also in the team.
Muhammad Shafee, who was appointed as lead prosecutor in the appeal of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy II case in 2013, is leading the defence team and is being assisted by a team of lawyers which includes among others Harvinderjit Singh and Muhammad Farhan Shafee. — Bernama