KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — The hearing for Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption trial scheduled for this afternoon had to be postponed to allow him to deliver a speech in Parliament.
High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah pointed out that he agreed yesterday to Najib’s request for the hearing to start at 2.30pm as the Pekan MP confirmed that he would deliver his remarks in the morning.
The judge then warned against any future repeat.
“Since circumstances are such that it cannot proceed this afternoon, let this be the last time such a situation happens,” he said after hearing from both Najib’s lawyer and the prosecution.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah apologised to the judge earlier when informing the court that his client was unable to present himself at 2.30pm as scheduled.
Today was supposed to be the 22nd day of Najib’s 1MDB trial.
Even before 2.30pm, ninth prosecution witness Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi was present and standing by inside the courtroom for the hearing.
Absent in the public gallery were Najib and his aides and his small troupe of supporters when the case was called at 2.32pm.
Shafee told the judge that Najib had been present in Parliament from 10am this morning to wait for his turn to deliver his speech, but noted that his client had called him at around noon to inform that his morning slot had been postponed.
“But the entire Barisan Nasional slot [which] was seven speakers this morning which included Pekan which my client came from, was displaced by an application by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim maybe with others, for them to speak in the morning instead of the other slot,” Shafee told the judge.
Shafee suggested that the management of parliamentary slots for MPs sometimes depends on the government of the day.
“I can’t do anything. It has been moved...If he is prime minister today, I would have fought because he can always adjust, but he doesn’t control the situation,” he said of Najib who is the former prime minister.
Asked by the judge about the duty that required Najib to be present in Parliament, Shafee said his client had to perform his duty as MP to raise “some very critical issues in Parliament”.
Shafee said Najib had prepared his speech in the Dewan Rakyat since the past two weeks and that it was not easy to get a slot for a speech of up to 30 minutes except during the Budget debate period.
Noting that Najib had said today that his slot had been shifted to around 3.10pm to 3.20pm, Shafee said his client would be giving his speech for between 20 and 30 minutes, but said the timing was not “stable” as speeches may take longer when other MPs intervene and speak.
“He apologises to Yang Arif and my learned friend for not being able to present himself at 2.30pm due to this unavoidable circumstance,” Shafee said.
Shafee claimed that Najib would be penalised by not being given a slot in Parliament for the next few months if he foregoes his speech today, as he would be considered to have forfeited his slot unless he had fallen sick.
Lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said he was given instructions that the attorney general or the public prosecutor is “most dissatisfied” and “very unhappy” about this turn of events.
Sri Ram said the prosecution appreciated that there should be no interference between different arms of the government, but said the assertion that Najib would have to give up his slot in Parliament is “not a good reason” as this was a matter of trial which involved Najib’s liberty. (Najib’s trial is over charges that can be punishable with jail sentences.)
Sri Ram said the prosecution was also put in a “very, very difficult situation” as prosecution witnesses have also been coming to court to standby for their turn to testify.
Sri Ram highlighted that Najib could have alerted the Dewan Rakyat Speaker of his need to attend court proceedings.
“Of course we are in Your Lordship’s hands but I will be most grateful if this is the last time such a thing happens. He could have obtained opportunity to speak on a different slot if he had informed the Speaker that he has to be present here.
“That would have been a good reason. Illness or any other good cause is in the standing orders. This is a good cause and his absence therefore we respectfully submit is not excusable,” he said.
Trial will resume tomorrow at 9.30am.
Najib was also posting on Facebook at around 2pm that he would be speaking at around 3pm in Parliament as Port Dickson MP Anwar had allegedly taken his turn, and had also posted at around 3.20pm that he would be debating the Budget 2020 soon.