Covid-19 interruptions: The court cases in Malaysia (briefly) disrupted by quarantine, tests

Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial involving 25 charges over more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds was postponed on October 5. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial involving 25 charges over more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds was postponed on October 5. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 — Malaysians are by now familiar with interruptions to their daily lives in the “new normal” amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Its effects have been felt even in the courtrooms, causing delays to hearings as lawyers and even the accused undertake health screenings for the virus.

Malay Mail compiled a list of the high-profile court cases known to have been disrupted due to Covid-19 related factors, based on news reports:

1. Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1MDB trial

The former prime minister’s trial involving 25 charges over more than RM2 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) funds was postponed on October 5, as he was still undergoing a voluntary 14-day self-quarantine at home following his September 27 return from assisting in Barisan Nasional’s election campaign in Sabah.

The campaign period for the Sabah election was from September 12 to September 25, while voting day was on September 26. Sabah had recently experienced a spike in Covid-19 cases.

The High Court granted Najib’s request to have the previously scheduled trial dates from October 5 to October 8 to be taken off in light of the health risk and asked lawyers to find replacement dates for the four days, before postponing the trial to the previously scheduled date of October 19.

Previously, Najib had on his official Facebook page said on September 27 that he had carried out a Covid-19 test and that he did not display any symptoms, before saying on September 29 that his test result was negative but that he would be quarantining himself at home as the incubation period for the Covid-19 virus is 14 days.

This is not the first time Najib’s 1MDB trial had faced disruptions or postponements due to matters related to Covid-19, with the court unable to proceed with the trial on March 12.

Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and his entire legal team had to go on quarantine as his sister-in-law was a close contact of a person who had tested positive for Covid-19 and as his team had interacted with him. Shafee later tested negative, but the trial was again further disrupted due to Covid-19 linked issues.

Initial trial dates from March 19 onwards had to be postponed and rescheduled repeatedly as Malaysia was put under a movement control order (MCO) from March 18 before the MCO went through several phases, with Najib’s 1MDB trial only resuming on May 19.

2. Najib’s 1MDB audit trial with ex-1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy

In this trial, Najib is accused of abusing his official positions to instruct for amendments to the Auditor-General’s audit report on 1MDB to avoid facing civil or criminal action, while Arul Kanda is accused of abetting him.

The High Court on June 15 allowed Najib’s request for the trial to be postponed to the next day while waiting for Covid-19 test results of an unwell lawyer from the defence team who had high fever and cough the same morning, and to also allow time for Shafee who had been in contact with the lawyer to be undergo a Covid-19 test.

This trial was previously scheduled to resume on October 12 after the last trial dates in August, but it appears that it will resume a day later.

When contacted yesterday, a lawyer from Najib’s defence team said that Najib is still under quarantine until October 12, and will only be attending court from October 13 onwards.

Najib had on Facebook yesterday said he had once again tested negative for Covid-19, but did not indicate when his 14-day quarantine period would be due to end.

The High Court had to postpone Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s trial twice in September. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
The High Court had to postpone Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s trial twice in September. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

3. Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s corruption trial in relation to Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds

The High Court had to postpone the Umno president’s trial twice in September, with the first postponement on September 21 affecting his pre-scheduled trial that afternoon and the next day due to the need to wait for the results of his second Covid-19 test. His trial had went on in the morning, while his first test taken at noon that day was negative.

When the trial was to resume on September 28, Zahid’s lawyer said that his client could not attend as he was still serving a home surveillance order (HSO) by the Health Ministry from September 26 to September 28, with a second Covid-19 test to be taken after again testing negative the day before and with a 14-day self-monitoring required as a precaution.

High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah then granted Zahid’s request for the trial to not go on on the previously scheduled trial dates that week (September 28-September 30), saying: “I think we better err on the side of caution, this is a health issue.”

Malay Mail understands that Zahid has since completed his quarantine and is cleared of Covid-19, he will be able to attend his trial on October 12 — the scheduled date for resumption. He is facing 47 charges in this trial. 

Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

4. Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s bribe-for-contract trial over a solar hybrid project

The High Court could not hear on October 5 and October 7 the testimony of former education minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid — the fifth prosecution witness which Rosmah’s lawyers had wanted to recall for cross-examination — as he was under quarantine until October 12 following his return from Sabah for election campaigns. He was also said to be due to take another Covid-19 test on October 7.

The prosecution had initially intended to wrap up its case with the 23rd and final prosecution witness, MACC investigative officer Noornabilah Mohd Aziman, having completed her testimony on October 5 and October 7. 

The prosecution will now have to wait for Mahdzir to complete his quarantine and to attend court on the next hearing date of October 20. The High Court is also expected to hear on October 20 the prosecution’s application for audio recordings of phone conversations between Rosmah and her husband Najib to be admitted as evidence to show her character and alleged overbearing nature.

In the lawsuit, the government had sought to claim RM253.6 million from NFCorp, former minister Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s husband Datuk Mohamad Salleh Ismail (pic) and their three children, and six companies controlled by Mohamad Salleh’s firm.
In the lawsuit, the government had sought to claim RM253.6 million from NFCorp, former minister Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s husband Datuk Mohamad Salleh Ismail (pic) and their three children, and six companies controlled by Mohamad Salleh’s firm.

5. The Malaysian government’s RM253.6m lawsuit against NFCorp and others

On October 5, the High Court postponed hearing the ongoing case, as senior federal counsel Azizan Md Arshad who was representing the government was undergoing a 14-day quarantine at home after returning from attending a case in the Kota Kinabalu court in Sabah. 

The case was initially scheduled to be heard on October 5 until October 8, with five witnesses having already testified for the Malaysian government previously and with the last witness for the government yet to testify. 

The High Court fixed additional and new hearing dates from November 4 to 6 and February 22 to 26, 2021.

In the lawsuit, the government had sought to claim RM253.6 million (linked to a RM250 million loan for a national feedlot centre and interest charges) from NFCorp, former minister Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s husband Datuk Mohamad Salleh Ismail and their three children, and six companies controlled by Mohamad Salleh’s firm. 

6. Buddhist-raised woman’s bid to be declared not a Muslim

On October 6, the Federal Court deferred hearing the appeal, as one of the lawyers for the case’s intervener Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) was a close contact of a minister who had tested positive for Covid-19 and could not be present.

The Federal Court was initially due to hear an appeal involving two legal questions from Selangor woman Rosliza Ibrahim, who had previously said she was born to a Muslim father and Buddhist mother who were not married at the time of her birth, and that she was raised a Buddhist and remains a Buddhist until now and wanted to be recognised as a non-Muslim. Her appeal was against the Selangor state government, with Mais as intervener.

Other lawyers present did not object to Mais’ request to postpone the appeal hearing, with Rosliza’s lawyer Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram stating to reporters on the Covid-19 related postponement: “I have no objection because it could happen to anyone. This sort of incident can happen to anyone.”

The case has now been fixed for case management on October 27.

7. Utusan Melayu, ex-journalist’s appeal in defamation suit by veteran lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon

On October 8, a five-man panel at the Federal Court postponed its hearing of the appeal as the lawyer for the first appellant, ex-journalist Raja Syahrir Abu Bakar, is undergoing a 14-day self-imposed quarantine for Covid-19. The other appellant is Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd.

Manjeet Singh’s lawyer Americk Singh Sidhu reportedly did not object to the postponement. The hearing has been rescheduled to December 1.

The defamation suit filed by Manjeet Singh in 2011 is in relation to news reports on former Padang Serai Member of Parliament N Gobalakrishnan’s comments to the media, with Gobalakrishnan and news agencies named in his lawsuit.

Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 18, 2020. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 18, 2020. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

8. Corruption trial of Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim and brother Datuk Abdul Latif

The scheduled first day of trial for Abdul Azeez and his brother Abdul Latiff who is accused of abetting him in obtained bribes was deferred on August 18, indirectly linked to Covid-19 as Abdul Azeez who is Baling MP had to be attend Parliament to vote on a government bill to introduce a law for temporary measures to reduce the impact of Covid-19. The trial at the Sessions Court began on the next scheduled date of August 19 instead.

On his Facebook page, Abdul Azeez had on September 27 posted that he had taken a Covid-19 test and will have to be quarantined until the result is out, before saying on September 30 that his first test result is negative but will continue the 14-day quarantine as recommended by the Health Ministry. He had previously carried out election campaign activities in Sabah.

When contacted yesterday, which was a previously scheduled trial date for the duo’s case, Azeez’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told Malay Mail that his client’s case has been deferred to October 16, as Azeez is “still under home quarantine”.

Courts in general

The civil courts have also been strictly enforcing the necessary Covid-19 precautions since reopening for physical court hearings on May 13, after having previously suspended physical court operations from March 18 in line with the MCO but with measures in place then to ensure access to justice including through the use of online avenues. 

The MCO was subsequently relaxed in stages to the conditional movement control order (CMCO) and to the current phase of recovery movement control order (RMCO).

The strict measures implemented include requiring those who enter the court compound to register and undergo temperature screening and wear face masks, while also ensuring physical distancing for seatings within courtrooms.

Separately, Shariah courts in the Federal Territories, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Penang, Terengganu and Sarawak had briefly suspended services including trials and case mentions from last Wednesday until yesterday as a precautionary measure after several Shariah officers attended an event on September 29 to September 30.

The event Nusantara Shariah Legal and Judicial Conference (PKPSN 2020) was attended by minister Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad, who had on October 5 tested positive for Covid-19. 

Appeal cases in Sabah involving the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia (JKSM) appeal panel has also been postponed from October 12, due to a two-week ban on interstate travel to and from Sabah from October 12 amid a high number of Covid-19 cases there.

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