KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyer today asked that the former prime minister be allowed to skip court proceedings this Friday for matters related to his corruption trial over SRC International Sdn Bhd’s RM42 million funds, which is also the day before the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor.
Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked the High Court to allow his client to be excused this Friday afternoon from a hearing of his bid to get information on witnesses for the trial.
“He’s got a statutory function in Johor Bahru,” Shafee claimed when explaining why Najib wanted to be excused from attending the Friday hearing.
Shafee argued that Najib’s absence from court this Friday would be “completely legal” and that “his attendance would not be much of a consequence”, saying that there have been other applications for Najib’s criminal case in the Court of Appeal and Federal Court where his attendance as the accused was not required.
Lead prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram however questioned the nature of the “statutory” duty that Najib was alleged to have in Johor this Friday.
“The prosecution’s position has always been, in criminal matters, the accused has to be present, we don’t want the trial to be declared a nullity,” Sithambaram said.
Sithambaram noted that there was only one occasion where Najib’s attendance was dispensed with during trial due to his execution of parliamentary duties as MP of Pekan, Pahang, pointing out: “As far as I know, he is not an assemblyman in Johor.”
Shafee then pointed to Najib’s role as Pekan MP, and said Najib’s presence was required in Johor for the Tanjung Piai by-election for purposes of coordinating campaign machinery as chairman of the Barisan Nasional coalition’s advisory board.
Shafee also argued that any prejudice that may arise because of Najib’s absence during this Friday’s court proceedings would be to Najib himself, but also highlighted that it would just be for hearing of a related application and not the actual trial where evidence is produced.
Just as in typical criminal trials, Najib has been required to physically be present during trial to safeguard his right to fair trial as an accused.
After hearing both sides, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali then decided to allow Najib to be “exempted” from the court hearing this Friday.
Earlier today, Mohd Nazlan decided that Najib has to enter his defence in the SRC International case, ruling that the prosecution has successfully presented credible evidence to prove all elements of the seven charges against him and which would warrant a conviction if Najib fails to rebut or explain them.
Najib then said he would choose to give a sworn statement from the witness stand in his own defence, which means he would be subjected to cross-examination by the prosecution.
The judge confirmed that the next trial dates will be as previously scheduled, namely December 3 to December 4, December 9 to 12, and December 16 to 19.
Noting that the prosecution had offered a list of witnesses that Najib can call on for his defence, Shafee informed the court that his client would be filing an application to seek for a list of witnesses that the prosecution had not offered but who had had their statements recorded.
Shafee said Najib’s legal team will also apply to obtain the statements that all witnesses in the case had recorded with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or the police, adding that they wanted such documents to be provided before trial resumes on December 3.
The court then fixed this Friday afternoon for the hearing of these applications.
This morning has been a busy one for Najib, as he had first attended a separate trial in connection to over RM2 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) funds around 9am, before going to a different courtroom for the SRC case at around 10am.
The 1MDB trial was set to resume this afternoon, but would not be heard as the ninth prosecution witness Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi who is being cross-examined is unwell. The 1MDB trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah will resume on Wednesday.