Court skips lunch in 1MDB trial to allow Najib to deliver speech in Parliament, warns against repeat without advance notice

Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 16, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 16, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak will be able to make it to Parliament today to deliver his speech there, as the High Court hearing his money-laundering and power abuse trial over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds skipped lunch in order to hear the case and end proceedings earlier today.

High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah decided to sit through the customary lunch break, having read a letter received today from the Dewan Rakyat Speaker.

At around 1.06pm, the judge said that he had managed to view and digest the letter from the Speaker which he was not able to do earlier as he had been hearing the 1MDB trial since morning with only short breaks.

“What I’ve decided to do, if your client’s supposed to be there at 3.30pm, I have decided to go on, continue without lunch break. 

“I’ll stop at 3.15pm. Your client can proceed to Parliament, it’s just around the corner,” he said.

“I must put on record, there’s something on Takwim in Parliament. I don’t know what...it wasn’t informed earlier. I don’t want to waste time, I’ll proceed.

“Unless I’m informed well in advance on the next occasion, I will not be entertaining any more requests for similar adjournment,” he added.

Earlier, Najib’s lawyer Tania Scivetti appeared to indicate that her client would prefer not to rush, as he “needs to be in the right state of mind to make the speech”, but the judge later said he had made his decision. 

The judge also highlighted that Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had not cited the same reason regarding the Parliament Takwim yesterday.

“Yesterday the letter, Tan Sri Shafee did not mention this as a reason for asking for adjournment, I was only informed (today). It came as a surprise to me. Anyway I don’t want to debate about it and waste more time,” he said matter of factly, and asked for the trial to proceed.

Najib, as well as the witness being cross-examined, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi were seen being called back after having left the courtroom earlier for the lunch break, and were present in the courtroom when the judge announced his decision to sit through lunch.

The trial was conducted from around 1.10pm until 3.15pm, with only one brief break in between to enable Muslims in the courtroom to perform their prayers.

At 3.02pm, when it appeared that Najib’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed was prepared to end his cross-examination of the witness earlier as he was moving on to a technical area, the judge firmly said: “Carry on, I said 3.15pm, and not a minute sooner.” The trial then went on until 3.15pm.

After the court proceedings ended at 3.15pm sharp, Najib was seen immediately leaving the courtroom with his aides and supporters.

At around 12.40pm, Najib’s defence lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed had before lunch break asked after a letter sent to the High Court on the requirement for Najib to attend Parliament this afternoon.

But at that point in time, the judge had said: “I haven’t had time to read, I was busy dealing with the trial. I leave it to officers, I don’t know what the contents are.

“This application was made yesterday. I’ve already made my decision,” he had said then, when referring to Najib’s failed bid yesterday to have the trial end earlier before 2pm to be able to go to Parliament. At that time, the court was scheduled to resume hearing of the trial at 2.15pm.

Yesterday, Shafee applied on his client’s behalf to have the 1MDB trial proceedings today go on from 9.30am and throughout the usual lunch period, so that Najib could deliver his speech in Parliament after 2pm.

Shafee had produced in court a letter from the Backbenchers’ Council in Parliament, which he said had listed Najib as having the top slot in the line-up of MPs to deliver their speeches in the Dewan Rakyat today.

Shafee had yesterday told the court that Najib would seek to be given the slot to speak after 2pm today and asked for the trial to be conducted for half the day.

But while acknowledging Najib has his duties to perform as a member of Parliament for the Pekan constituency, the judge yesterday also noted that he also had his duties to perform.

Noting the competing duties, the judge yesterday rejected Najib’s bid to have the trial go on for half a day, ruling instead that the trial would go on for the full day.

Najib’s 1MDB trial yesterday had gone on for the full day until 5pm. Trial 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 overlaps 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 who 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.

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