KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak via his lawyer today asked the High Court to postpone his trial from next Monday to January 13, but former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy, who is jointly charged, wants it to start without any delay.
Former prime minister Najib and Arul Kanda will be jointly tried over charges of tampering in 2016 with the auditor-general’s final report on 1MDB.
Najib’s lawyer Harvinderjit Singh told the High Court that the postponement sought was necessary as his client’s legal team needed time to prepare for another trial.
Harvinderjit was arguing on behalf of Najib for the joint trial with Arul Kanda to not begin and be heard from the scheduled dates of November 18 (next Monday) to November 29, noting that the defence stage of Najib’s corruption trial over RM42 million of SRC International Sdn Bhd is scheduled to start on December 3.
Harvinderjit argued that starting the trial on Monday would mean that Najib’s lawyers only have about six days on weekends to prepare for the SRC trial where Najib is expected to be the first defence witness.
“I do appreciate these things have to carry on, I do appreciate the public prosecutor’s position as well that these cases should not be delayed unnecessarily, but these are unusual circumstances,” he said, highlighting the “back-to-back” trial schedules that Najib is facing.
“It’s somewhat prejudicial, in fact if we don’t have time to prepare for defence, how is he going to make a stand?” he said, arguing that Najib is entitled to due process as an accused.
The High Court previously set the Najib-Arul Kanda trial dates as November 18 to November 29, before continuing from January 13 to 17, 2020.
Arul Kanda objects
However, Arul Kanda’s lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan pointed out the need to consider the interests of all accused persons and not just Najib, with his client keen to start even if the predicament of Najib’s lawyers were understandable.
“My client has been under a dark cloud since charged last year and he also wants to see this trial go on.
“He is very anxious for the trial to go on for him to vindicate himself. I think it’s unfair for him,” he said, referring to Arul Kanda who was charged in December 2018 with abetting Najib in the alleged audit report tampering.
Sivananthan said he expected there to be further attempts in January for the trial to be postponed due to new developments, if the trial is allowed to be delayed as requested now.
“I strenuously object and ask for the court to reject the application and commence on Monday,” Sivananthan said.
Sivananthan had also pointed out that the November trial dates for the Najib-Arul Kanda joint trial were fixed earlier than the scheduling of trial dates in the SRC case.
Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib noted that the High Court has the discretion to decide on postponement of cases, but objected to Najib’s last attempt to delay his trial from starting.
Akram argued that it would not look good on the judiciary if High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan was to give a differing decision after having on November 13 decided that the case would start next Monday, also noting that Najib's lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had on November 7 indicated he was neutral with the trial going on.
Akram also argued that Najib was allegedly "not telling the whole truth" when informing in an affidavit that he would also seek to postpone the SRC trial scheduled for December 3 due to various factors such as the starting of the trial with Arul Kanda.
Akram pointed out that Najib had in a November 13 application for SRC trial witness statements said he would seek for the SRC trial to be postponed to enable review on those statements if received.
"Therefore I submit there's already a plan to postpone that case as well, therefore it's not because of this case. It's already pre-planned to postpone the defence itself," Akram said.
Harvinderjit however assured that he would not be seeking for a delay in the SRC trial, if this joint trial with Arul Kanda is postponed.
"We are not trying to have our cake and eat it as well," Harvinderjit said.
Having heard the lawyers, High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan questioned the change in Najib’s legal team’s tone on the trial dates, noting that Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had in the past said he had no problem with the trial going on.
“At that point in time, he (Shafee) was aware the court in SRC case was going to deliver its decision in November and there was a possibility that the trial dates of defence would be in December. I was quite careful when I fixed dates, I wanted to make sure all parties are comfortable with the dates and they are all aware of the dates.
“I have to admit it comes to me as a bit of a surprise for your team now to change your tone, when prior to this you were quite insistent on the trial going on...Why the change in stance now?” the judge asked, noting that he was careful when scheduling trial dates and had repeatedly said he would be fair to all parties involved.
Harvinderjit said that Najib’s lawyers now need time as they have the burden of rebutting or explaining the charges against him in the SRC case following the judge’s “elaborate” findings that required Najib to enter defence.
Harvinderjit also said Najib’s lawyers were also seeking to obtain information on witnesses other than around 66 witnesses offered to the defence in the SRC trial.
Zaini then said he would decide next Monday morning itself on whether to start trial then, asking Najib’s lawyers to update him on the SRC trial dates before he makes his decision.
Najib’s lawyers will this afternoon appear before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah for a hearing of his application for details on witnesses in the SRC trial and for their witness statements to be produced ahead of the scheduled December 3 trial date.