KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — The High Court today rejected Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s application to have the former prime minister’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) trial end earlier tomorrow for the latter to attend Parliament to deliver a speech.
High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah acknowledged Najib’s duties as a member of Parliament for the Pekan constituency, but decided that the 1MDB trial would proceed for the full day tomorrow as previously scheduled.
“I appreciate he has a duty to perform, but I also have a duty to perform,” the judge said, noting that these were competing duties.
“This case has to proceed tomorrow until 4.30pm with the usual lunch break,” the judge said.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah today applied on his client’s behalf to have the 1MDB trial proceedings tomorrow go on from 9.30am and throughout the usual lunch period, and to have it end earlier for Najib to deliver his speech in Parliament after 2pm.
Shafee today produced in court an official letter from the office of the Backbenchers’ Council in Parliament, noting that this body is in charge of arranging the line-up for MPs to deliver their speeches in the Dewan Rakyat.
Shafee said Najib as the Pekan MP has been slotted at the top of the line-up tomorrow in Parliament, before then going on to make the application to shorten the trial proceedings tomorrow.
“We are moving this application because it pertains to his duties as an MP. I think it is perhaps important for me to mention to Yang Arif that previously MPs such as Karpal and Patto have been exempted from attending court,” he said, referring to the late DAP MP Karpal Singh.
“Even as an accused person in the case of Patto and in the case of Karpal in both capacities as accused and advocate, because the paramount duty is in attending Parliament,” Shafee argued.
Shafee then expressed his “worry”, before highlighting the level of privileges accorded to MPs.
“What I’m worried about is this, I must inform this to Yang Arif. There was an occasion to do a research on this matter. Because I almost cited an MP for contempt because of certain statements made outside of Parliament.
“But something tells me I should do research, then I realised the privilege of an MP or senator, had I cited him for contempt for the statement he made within the corridors of Parliament, I myself can be cited for contempt of Parliament,” he said.
At this point, Sequerah sternly asked Shafee: “Are you saying, if I do not allow this, I can be cited for contempt?”
Shafee then went on to say that the privileges given to MPs are to allow them to effectively discharge their duties, adding that Parliament has the powers to punish contempt of Parliament or breaches of privileges.
Shafee noted that Najib had been advised that he could insist on attending Parliament even when he is not delivering speeches in order to follow parliamentary debates, but said Najib while “realising his full duty to Parliament” has opted to take a lighter and easier approach tomorrow for Sequerah.
Shafee said Najib had decided to have Perikatan Nasional’s Backbenchers Council chairman Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim communicate with Parliament for Najib to be given the slot to speak after 2pm tomorrow.
Shafee then asked that the trial go on for half a day tomorrow and for Najib to then be excused for his “important function” as an MP.
But the judge rejected the application.
Najib’s 1MDB trial today had gone on for the full day until 5pm, and will resume tomorrow morning.
In criminal trials, an accused has to be physically present during proceedings for the purposes of ensuring a fair trial.
Since Najib’s power abuse and money-laundering trial over 1MDB funds started on August 28, 2019, the High Court has been hearing the matter for about 40 days, only allowing trial to be paused or shortened for unavoidable circumstances.
Najib has three major criminal trials ongoing at the same time with trial dates being precious due to the need to avoid overlapping or clashes in the hearing schedules, but the High Court in his 1MDB trial has taken a reasonable approach in considering past requests for the trial to be deferred or shortened.
For example, the High Court in Najib’s 1MDB trial had allowed the trial to be vacated when Najib had eye infections in September 2019 and swollen eyes in October 2019 while also allowing in September 2019 an earlier lunch break to allow him to seek medical attention for his eyes before resuming trial in the afternoon, besides also deferring the trial when the witness that was testifying was ill.
The High Court had also in March postponed the trial after Najib’s defence team went into self-quarantine over a Covid-19 scare, and had also earlier this month allowed one day of trial to be taken off upon Shafee’s request for Najib to be able to perform his alleged “statutory function as an MP” by helping Barisan Nasional’s campaign in the Chini by-election.
But the High Court had also last November sternly warned against any attempt to mislead the court following a controversy over whether sick leave by Najib had been abused to delay the trial, and had also last October given stern comments after scheduling issues in Najib’s parliamentary speech resulted in the trial being postponed.