KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s corruption and money-laundering trial over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds will not carry on as scheduled tomorrow, as the former prime minister will be helping with Barisan Nasional’s election campaign for the by-election in Chini, Pahang this Saturday.
Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah today informed the High Court in Kuala Lumpur that it was crucial for his client to be in Pahang to increase the voter turnout.
“As for tomorrow, my client would have to be in Pekan so he can campaign for the Chini by-election,” Shafee told the court when applying for the trial not to go on tomorrow.
According to Shafee, Najib’s campaign activities in Pahang would start from this evening at around 6pm until midnight, while his programmes tomorrow would start at 9am in an Orang Asli village in Pahang and go on until midnight, and would also be campaigning the whole day on Friday.
“I have been informed that the Chini by-election is especially important because of the nature of the candidates, voters might take it easy and not turn out. So it’s critical for my client to be in these places to whip up support that they come out, it doesn’t matter who they vote,” Shafee said, noting that the phenomenon of lower voter turnout has happened before in other polls.
“His presence for campaigning is critical because Chini is under Pekan,” he said, pointing to Najib’s role as the Pekan MP, with the federal constituency of Pekan covering four state constituencies including the Chini state seat.
“Over and above that, he is also chief for the state of Pahang for any by-election maters, so he has to turn up by this evening, that is my application,” he added.
High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah then asked if Najib would be able to attend trial for at least half a day tomorrow, but Shafee said that it would be “impossible” for Najib to do so owing to the packed election campaign and asked for the application to be allowed to enable Najib to perform his “statutory function as an MP”.
The judge then allowed the application for the trial to not proceed tomorrow as previously scheduled, owing to Najib’s statutory function as an MP.
This week, the 1MDB trial is only scheduled to carry on until Thursday.
The Chini by-election on July 4 or this Saturday is a three-corner fight between BN candidate Mohd Sharim Md Zain and independent candidates Tengku Datuk Zainul Hisham Tengku Hussin and Mohd Shukri Mohd Ramli. The Malay-majority state seat has 20,990 voters.
As for today’s trial, the judge allowed Shafee’s application for the proceedings to carry on through lunch and to end earlier at around 2pm, as the latter had an appointment for a meeting at Wisma Putra, Putrajaya at around 4pm.
Today, Shafee again mentioned a possible need for the 1MDB trial to not proceed as scheduled during certain days during July 13 to July 17, if Najib’s presence as Pekan MP is required in the Dewan Rakyat when it reconvenes on July 13.
Shafee said that the trial could still carry on as scheduled during that week, but said there would be two situations when Najib would have to attend Parliament — either when making a speech on any particular Bills or when the votes of Mps are counted for the passing of Bills.
The judge then said that he was inclined to proceed with the 1MDB trial until and unless Najib’s presence in Parliament is “absolutely needed”, with Shafee agreeing that they would play by ear on trial dates.
Yesterday, Shafee had also highlighted that Najib was expected to be in Parliament from July 13 to July 17, saying that this was “probably the most important sitting of Parliament because of certain turbulence that one expects in this current sitting”.
But the judge had also yesterday said that he would not be able to give a blanket ruling for trial to not go on for the entire week.
The judge yesterday said that he has no problems with allowing trial to be paused when there are important motions to be debated and voted upon in Parliament, saying that this could be considered on a day-by-day basis or even for part of the day.
The trial will resume on July 15, with Shafee expected to continue cross-examining former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi who is testifying as the ninth prosecution witness for several more weeks.
The prosecution has said it has lined up another 55 more witnesses to be called, including about 20 formal witnesses.
Trial dates for this case have been scheduled for almost every week from July until October.