Najib’s first 1MDB trial won’t start tomorrow after all

Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his son Noorashman Najib are seen at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya February 11, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his son Noorashman Najib are seen at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya February 11, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 11 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak today succeeded in deferring his first trial linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal that was due to start tomorrow at the High Court.

The Court of Appeal today unanimously allowed Najib’s application to stay the trial, until the end of an appeal linked to the case’s transfer from the Sessions Court to the High Court.

The three-man panel was chaired by Datuk Ahmadi Asnawi, and comprised judges Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah and Datuk Yew Jen Kie.

When delivering the panel’s decision, Ahmadi noted the prosecution’s arguments that Najib’s trial should go on as scheduled, owing to the seriousness of the charges against him and that the offences were allegedly committed by Najib in his capacity as then prime minister.

The judge also acknowledged the prosecution’s argument that Najib’s case had become a matter of national and “public interest”.

But Ahmadi said the panel found that Najib’s lawyers had shown that there are “special circumstances” for a stay of the trial.

Ahmadi noted the possibility of the trial later becoming null if it proceeded tomorrow and if Najib’s related appeal was later allowed.

“It will render the trial a nullity and that would result in a waste of time and energy for all parties and also waste of public money.

“We are further of the view that we do not find any evidence of delaying tactics by the defence,” he added.

Earlier, Attorney General Tommy Thomas had urged against the granting of a stay of the trial, highlighting the seriousness of the charges against Najib and the defence’s alleged tactics to delay the trial at every opportunity available.

Thomas pointed out that the prosecution had already handed over 25 volumes of documents comprising 5,000 pages to the defence several months ago, adding that 26 witness statements were already available.

Harvinderjit Singh, one of Najib’s lawyers, however argued that the defence had not used delaying tactics, highlighting that his client had been charged about seven and a half months ago.

Najib, wearing a grey suit, was accompanied by his son Noorashman in court.

Najib was scheduled to face his first 1MDB-related trial tomorrow. The charges were three counts of money-laundering, three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of power abuse over RM42 million of funds belonging to 1MDB’s former unit SRC International Sdn Bhd.

In a last-ditch attempt, Najib had on February 8 filed an application to stay his trial tomorrow, pending his appeal against the prosecution’s withdrawal of a certificate of transfer to shift the seven charges from the Sessions Court to the High Court.

Najib’s lawyers had previously mounted an unsuccessful bid at the High Court to defer his trial tomorrow.

There is no new trial date yet for Najib’s seven charges in relation to the RM42 million.

When met later, Najib’s lead defence counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah confirmed that no court date has been fixed yet for the appeal related to the case’s transfer.

When met later, ad hoc prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram said the prosecution was already ready to go on with the trial tomorrow, describing today’s decision as merely causing a mild inconvenience.

“But I think we will be able to get it back on track very shortly in a week or so,” he told reporters.

“It’s just a legal hiccup which happens and we will be able to deal with it,” he added.

As for whether the prosecution would appeal at the Federal Court against the granting of stay for Najib’s trial, Sithambaram said the prosecution would discuss the matter before deciding whether to do so.

“But I think we are more interested in getting on with the trial. That is our paramount interest,” he said.

Najib currently has a total of 42 charges against him from several separate cases.

Trial dates have already been fixed in April and May for Najib’s 25 charges involving power abuse and money-laundering in relation to over RM2 billion allegedly belonging to SRC International, while Najib’s trial over six charges of criminal breach of trust involving some RM6.64 billion has been fixed in July and August.