Najib’s bid to disqualify Gopal Sri Ram as 1MDB prosecutor deferred to April 23

Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya April 10, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya April 10, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

PUTRAJAYA, April 10 — The Court of Appeal today fixed April 23 to hear Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s appeal in his bid to remove former judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram as his prosecutor in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) cases.

Najib’s lawyer, Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed, informed the court of their request for today’s appeal hearing to be deferred as the Federal Court will deliver its decision on a related matter at 11am.

“We are of the opinion that we should have a solid decision or final decision by the Federal Court on the first issue,” he said, after noting that the apex court’s ruling would be helpful for the appeal.

According to Wan Aizuddin, Najib’s lawyers would be arguing two main issues, namely whether the prosecution needs to produce Sri Ram’s letter of appointment as prosecutor and whether Sri Ram should be disqualified as a prosecutor.

Wan Aizuddin said Najib’s legal team had on April 8 sent a letter to the Court of Appeal to seek for the adjournment of today’s appeal hearing, mainly due to the 11am decision and because Najib’s lead defence lawyer, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, was also handling another case involving Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at the Federal Court today.

Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib did not object to the request for deferment, based on the same reason that the Federal Court decision may affect the arguments presented in this appeal.

Ahmad Akram also informed the appellate court that the prosecution will be filing a preliminary objection against Najib’s bid to disqualify Sri Ram as prosecutor, which will centre on whether the matter is appealable.

Datuk Zabariah Mohd Yusof, who chaired a three-man panel at the Court of Appeal, fixed April 23 for the appeal hearing.

Zabariah repeatedly told Najib’s lawyers not to seek an adjournment for his ongoing trial in a separate matter in the High Court that was also scheduled for April 23, and obtained confirmation from the prosecution that Najib would be excused from the Court of Appeal so that he may attend trial in the High Court on that day.

She also fixed April 16 for both sides to hand in their written submissions and April 19 for them to file their replies to submissions.

Justices Datuk Rhodzariah Bujang and Datuk Lau Bee Lan were the others on the panel today.

The hearing initially scheduled today was on Najib’s bid to remove Sri Ram as his prosecutor in several 1MDB cases.

On December 21, Najib had applied to disqualify Sri Ram from leading the prosecution of three of his cases — namely 25 charges of money-laundering and power abuse involving more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds; six charges of criminal breach of trust over RM6.64 billion; and one charge of power abuse involving the alleged tampering of the auditor-general’s 1MDB audit report.

On March 1, the High Court dismissed Najib’s bid to disqualify Sri Ram as his prosecutor, finding that there was no evidence to show Sri Ram would be biased or that Najib would be denied a fair trial.

The High Court also said Najib had no right to ask the prosecution to produce Sri Ram’s letter of appointment as a prosecutor.

In a separate case where Najib is facing seven charges over RM42 million of former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd’s funds, the Federal Court is expected to deliver at 11am its decision on four appeals.

One of the appeals is over the Court of Appeal ruling that the prosecution has to produce the letter of appointment of private lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah as prosecutor in Najib’s SRC International trial.