Kuala Lumpur, Nov 13 — The joint trial of Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Arul Kanda Kandasamy will start as scheduled next Monday without any delay, the High Court ruled today.
Former prime minister Najib and 1MDB former CEO Arul Kanda are jointly accused of tampering with the auditor-general’s final report on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan disallowed a request made last week to defer this trial — Najib’s third trial so far.
“I’m disinclined for two reasons. If I were to vacate those dates, I will be very hard-pressed to find alternative dates, very difficult for me,” the judge said.
Zaini acknowledged the prosecution’s previous request for the joint trial of Najib and Arul Kanda to be deferred based on the reason that a key witness in this trial had yet to complete his testimony in a separate ongoing trial against Najib over 1MDB funds.
But Zaini said the prosecution could start by calling other witnesses for this trial first, and that the court could reconsider the matter if it comes to a stage when other witnesses have been exhausted.
“I can assure you I will not be pressing for him to give his evidence until he concludes his evidence in the 1MDB case, that much I’m willing to concede,” the judge added, referring to key witness Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi who was another 1MDB former CEO before Arul Kanda.
The joint Najib-Arul Kanda trial will start at 10am November 18 before Zaini.
Zaini had previously set the trial dates to start from November 18 to November 29, before continuing from January 13 to 17, 2020.
Before Zaini gave his decision on starting the audit tampering trial next Monday, lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram told the judge that key witness Shahrol has yet to complete his testimony in the separate 1MDB trial in relation to over RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Sri Ram pointed out that Shahrol’s cross-examination in the 1MDB trial will not be completed this year as it is only scheduled to run until tomorrow and as Najib’s lead lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah is on sick leave.
He added that the 1MDB trial will only continue on from January 6 until April 2 next year.
Sri Ram reiterated the importance of having Shahrol complete his testimony in the 1MDB trial first before the Najib-Arul Kanda trial.
Najib’s other lawyer Muhammad Farhan Muhammad Shafee also asked today for the Najib-Arul Kanda trial dates from November 18 to November 29 to be deferred.
Muhammad Farhan explained that the defence needs time to prepare in the separate trial involving RM42 million of former 1MDB unit SRC International Sdn Bhd’s funds.
He noted that this period is now a “critical juncture” for their team to make preparations, including readying statement for the defence witnesses to be called and Najib himself who is to testify under oath in the SRC trial.
He said the defence would also need additional preparation if they succeed this Friday in getting the SRC trial witnesses’ statements that were recorded by the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, highlighting the “narrow timelines” to prepare for both the SRC International case and for the Najib-Arul Kanda trial.
However, Zaini maintained that the trial on the alleged tampering of the final 1MDB audit report will start as scheduled.
He gave an assurance that he intends to be fair to all parties and would not want any disadvantages to either the prosecution or defence.
“In the meantime, let’s just get a headstart first,” he said, adding that the court would play by ear and consider subsequent requests during trial for more time when required.
In this trial, Najib is charged with abusing his position as prime minister to order amendments in February 2016 to the auditor-general’s final audit report on 1MDB before its presentation to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, while Arul Kanda was charged with abetting Najib in the report’s tampering.
Both their offences are punishable under the MACC Act 2009 with a maximum 20-year jail term, and a fine of at least five times the amount of gratification or RM10,000 or whichever is higher.
Other than these three cases, Najib has two other cases that have yet to go on trial.
Najib’s cases cannot go on trial at the same time as he has to be physically present to ensure a fair trial.