PUTRAJAYA, April 4 — The media’s publishing of claims regarding the alleged use of money for items such as shopping at fashion store Chanel and Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s home renovation is why a gag order on his trial should be issued, his lawyer highlighted today.
Lawyer Harvinderjit Singh highlighted the attorney general’s (AG) opening statement which contained such claims and which were read out in court on the first day of Najib’s trial yesterday in the High Court.
“This is the attorney general’s opening statement at trial. Every major news portal and the print carried this exactly in verbatim,” Harvinderjit told the Federal Court today.
Harvinderjit singled out three points in the opening statements, which he said alleges the spending of money “which is not even part of the charges” against Najib.
The points that Harvinderjit referred to include the attorney-general’s remarks that he would establish that Najib’s credit card was charged in December 2014 for US$130,625 for expenses made at Chanel in Honolulu in Hawaii, US.
Harvinderjit had also referred to the attorney-general’s comment that evidence will establish that 15 personal cheques were issued from Najib’s bank account for a total sum of approximately RM10,776,514 for items such as renovation of Najib’s Jalan Langgak Duta and Pekan houses, and to various Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties.
The attorney-general had said the prosecution would produce such evidence in relation to three money-laundering charges against Najib over RM42 million of funds from former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd.
Najib is facing a total of seven charges in his first trial, including three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of abuse of his then position as prime minister and finance minister for self-gratification over the same sum of RM42 million.
Earlier, Harvinderjit said he had previously asked the courts to at least issue a directive or advisory to the public to let them know what can or cannot be published in relation to Najib’s trial, noting the “highly-publicised” nature of the trial.
“All I’m asking for is the sub judice rule in the country, nobody should be publishing prejudicial contents on the trial,” he said, referring to the need to avoid the publishing of items that may prejudice his client.
Najib had previously failed at both the High Court and the Court of Appeal to obtain a gag order to stop anyone from publishing comments on the merits of his RM42 million trial, and had appealed to the Federal Court.
Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum chaired a seven-man panel that today heard several appeals that are linked to pre-trial matters in Najib’s trial.
The other judges on the panel today are Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Seri David Wong Dak Wah, Tan Sri Ramly Ali, Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, Tan Sri Idrus Harun and Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan.
Today, the Federal Court also heard Najib’s appeal regarding the way his trial was transferred from the Sessions Court to the High Court to be heard.
AG Tommy Thomas argued that this appeal by Najib should be dismissed as both the High Court and Court of Appeal had also rejected the challenge, noting that both Najib and the prosecution do not dispute that the trial should be in the High Court.
“This is much ado about nothing, it’s a real storm in the teacup for this reason, it’s common ground that a trial of this complexity must be heard in the High Court.
“So the destination is the High Court, the only disagreement is the road to the destination of High Court,” he said.
Having argued that the process taken by the prosecution and High Court to have the case at the High Court was wrong, Harvinderjit later rebutted Thomas by saying: “Those who are in the business of taking away a person’s liberties should not be taking liberties.”
Najib’s lawyers today insisted that the correct procedure must be used for the transfer of the seven charges from the Sessions Court to the High Court.
The Federal Court also heard today the prosecution’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision, where the prosecution was required to provide Najib with the letter of appointment of private lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah as his prosecutor within three days from the decision.
Arguing that such documents are privileged under the solicitor-client relationship, Thomas had argued that Najib had “no legal right” to ask for Sulaiman’s letter of appointment and that the prosecution also had no legal duty to produce it.
Thomas also noted that any court decision on this matter would affect lawyers in future cases where those on opposing sides will be asked to produce their letter of appointment by clients, which he said should only be done under the exception where it is in doubt if a person has a valid practising certificate as a lawyer.
Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said the letter of appointment of private lawyers as ad-hoc prosecutors should be made available as their appointments could not be verified otherwise, comparing it to the appointments of deputy public prosecutors that are announced publicly via government gazettes.
Thomas today informed the Federal Court that copies of two letters dated August 30, 2018 and January 10, 2019 relating to Sulaiman’s appointment were handed to Najib’s lawyers on March 25 following the Court of Appeal’s decision in Najib’s favour.
But Thomas said the letters were also handed over with the conditions that they were to be kept confidential and that such handing over is without prejudice to the prosecution’s appeal to the Federal Court, as well as with a note that the prosecution would invite the Federal Court to order the return of such documents if it succeeds in its appeal against Najib.
The Federal Court will be hearing a fourth appeal by Najib — in relation to his request for additional documents from the prosecution to prepare for his trial — at 10am tomorrow.