Court strikes out Najib’s lawsuit against Ambank, ex-banker Joanna Yu over negligence, breach of duty in SRC case

Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on September 1, 2020. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on September 1, 2020. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 — The High Court today threw out Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawsuit against Ambank and former Ambank employee Joanna Yu Ging Ping over the handling of his personal bank accounts where millions of money linked to a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) subsidiary had flowed in and out of.

In this lawsuit, Najib had sued Ambank Islamic Bank Berhad, AMMB Holdings Berhad and Yu for alleged negligence and alleged breach of duty in the handling of his bank accounts that were cited in his criminal trial over RM42 million of former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB)’s unit SRC International Sdn Bhd’s funds.

High Court judge Datuk Khadijah Idris today decided to allow the applications by the three sued by Najib to have his lawsuit struck out.

The judge said she found Najib’s lawsuit to be “obviously unsustainable”, especially against Ambank’s holding company AMMB Holdings Berhad as it did not have any contractual relationship with Najib and was not involved in the management of Najib’s bank accounts at Ambank Islamic Bank.

The judge also said that she found Najib’s lawsuit to be “scandalous, vexatious and an abuse of court process”, further indicating that Najib’s civil lawsuit was not genuinely meant to seek compensation but was instead meant to bolster his defence in his criminal trial over the SRC funds.

“The plaintiff’s pleaded case is that the accounts were among others manipulated by third parties without his knowledge, this happened because of defendants’ act and omission, this is the same defence put up by the plaintiff in the SRC case,” the judge noted, referring to Najib as the plaintiff in his civil lawsuit against Ambank and Yu.

The judge said Najib would have needed to prove that Yu allowed a third party to “manipulate” his bank accounts without his knowledge, but then noted that Najib had only filed this lawsuit against Ambank and Yu after the prosecution in the SRC trial highlighted his lack of action over how his bank accounts were managed.

“The facts of the case clearly show this action was commenced by the plaintiff only after the prosecution in the SRC case pointed out among others, the plaintiff had never complained, questioned or sued the defendants despite his defence that his accounts were manipulated by third parties without his knowledge.

“This would lead to the irresistible conclusion that this action is not filed by the plaintiff to seek damages but for a collateral purpose, this is simply an abuse of the court process,” she added. 

The judge also said that Najib’s claim to have only discovered the alleged negligence and alleged breaches of duty by Ambank and Yu during the SRC trial is “untenable” as there was sufficient evidence that he ought to have known about the matters relating to his bank accounts, such as 2015 when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) questioned Najib and after Najib was exonerated by the then attorney-general years ago.

“However there was no action taken by the plaintiff in 2015 until this action was filed,” the judge pointed out, referring to Najib’s filing of this lawsuit only in December 2019.

The judge awarded costs of RM30,000 to both Ambank and AMMB which had filed a joint application for Najib’s lawsuit to be struck out, as well as cost of RM25,000 to Yu for her separate application to strike out Najib’s lawsuit.

Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah informed the court that his client would file an appeal immediately and “probably within the next couple of days”.

Ambank Islamic Bank Berhad’s and AMMB Holdings Berhad’s lawyer Yoong Sin Min and Joanna Yu’s lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar speak to reporters at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, September 28, 2020. — Picture by Ida Lim
Ambank Islamic Bank Berhad’s and AMMB Holdings Berhad’s lawyer Yoong Sin Min and Joanna Yu’s lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar speak to reporters at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, September 28, 2020. — Picture by Ida Lim

Ambank and AMMB’s lawyer Yoong Sin Min later told reporters outside the courtroom that the High Court had accepted the applications to strike out Najib’s lawsuit.

“She has accepted that it is meant to attack the SRC proceedings and not a bona fide proceedings to pursue this claim against the defendants.

“Because the plaintiff had delayed for years in filing this lawsuit until the SRC proceedings came about, so there is a legal principle of laches, which makes it inequitable for the plaintiff to mount the suit at this juncture,” Yoong explained.

The doctrine of laches refers to an unreasonable delay in asserting a claim which may result in its dismissal.

Yoong said the court had not viewed Najib’s lawsuit as being filed over a genuine grievance or a real attempt to seek compensation against those sued, noting that the judge had instead considered the lawsuit as being mounted just to help Najib in his defence in his criminal case involving SRC.

Yu’s lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar similarly explained that the court had viewed Najib’s civil lawsuit as being for a “collateral attack”; meaning Najib was raising the same issue and defence in his criminal trial by claiming he had no knowledge of his bank accounts’ transactions, in this civil lawsuit.

“They are raising it after this issue was raised in the criminal trial and this question was raised as to why they had not filed any action against this.

“So [the court] is saying the purpose is not really to get damages, but to save his own defence, to come up with his own defence. So that’s why [the court] said this is an abuse of the process, he’s doing it for a different purpose, not really for the purpose of getting relief,” Gurdial said.

As for Najib’s claim to have only discovered matters relating to his bank accounts after Yu gave evidence as a prosecution witness during the SRC trial, Gurdial said that the judge had rejected this argument.

“Because that’s not true, because in 2015 already he was interviewed by the MACC, so he never filed any action then. He only filed an action last year, so this is an abuse of process,” Gurdial said.

In his civil lawsuit, Najib had among other things claimed that the alleged negligence and alleged breach of duties by Ambank and Yu had purportedly enabled third parties — such as fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho — to manipulate his bank accounts allegedly without his knowledge and involvement, which he claims led to MACC investigations and also to him being charged and prosecuted in court.

Najib had also claimed that the alleged manipulation of his bank accounts would not have happened or that preventive actions could have been taken, if the alleged acts or omissions by Ambank and Yu had not taken place.

Separately in Najib’s criminal trial over SRC’s RM42 million that were said to have made it into his accounts, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali had on July 28 this year found him guilty on all seven charges — involving criminal breach of trust, power abuse and money-laundering.

Najib has since appealed his conviction in the SRC trial, while the prosecution has also appealed to seek harsher penalties against him.

 

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