KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 — Pekan MP Datuk Seri Najib Razak today failed in his bid to have the court vacate tomorrow’s trial for his 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) money-laundering and power abuse case.
On the first day of resuming trial, his lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked the High Court to grant Najib a day off tomorrow to visit flood-striken Pahang, as he is supposed to be in the dock.
“As they said, when bad things happen, they keep on happening, from Covid-19, now we have got this flood that is literally engulfing the east coast states and Pahang. My client is an MP there, the water at the moment is at one of the worst situations and is rising,” Shafee told judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.
According to Shafee, Najib did not visit his home state last weekend as the flood situation was not serious then, adding that it would look bad on the Pekan MP if he does not go tomorrow.
“If he doesn’t go tomorrow, it will be a very bad reflection on him, not only a reflection on him, but also affecting what people will say he has not done his duty as an MP to ensure his constituency and his people surrounding his area Pekan, Pahang is concerned and has taken certain action to reduce the pain and suffering of the people.
“So in light of that, my client has arranged — with Yang Arif’s permission — for him to be there tomorrow, possibly travelling this evening and coming back tomorrow, so he can be in court the day after tomorrow,” Shafee said, apologising to the court for having to make this application.
The judge rejected the application.
“I have been as accommodating as I could possibly be,” the judge said, pointing out that he had allowed Shafee’s previous request to not have the 1MDB trial resume yesterday and to only resume today.
“It’s a new year, this has to move, so the application by your client is denied, the case has to proceed,” he said.
The 1MDB trial is scheduled to run until Thursday for this month, before resuming on February 8.
In criminal trials, an accused has to be present during court 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 more than 50 days, with nine prosecution witnesses having already testified and the 10th prosecution witness still under cross-examination today.
In December 2020, the court fixed trial dates for Najib’s 1MDB trial to resume and be heard on January 4 to January 7, with other trial dates fixed in February 2021, and from April up until July 2021.
But Najib’s 1MDB trial did not resume yesterday following a request by Shafee, and had only resumed today.
Najib’s 1MDB trial had been disrupted multiple times in 2020, including a brief Covid-19 scare in March involving Najib’s entire legal team, and repeated rescheduling amid a movement control order on Malaysia with the trial only resuming on May 19 after taking into consideration Najib’s need to attend the Dewan Rakyat as MP on May 18.
The court had also allowed one day of trial to be taken off in July 2020 on Shafee’s request for Najib to perform his “statutory function as an MP” by helping in the Chini by-election campaign, and also once skipped the customary lunch break in July 2020 in trial proceedings to enable Najib to deliver his speech in the Dewan Rakyat according to Parliament’s schedule.
The 1MDB trial was again disrupted last year when Najib had to undergo Covid-19 quarantine in October after returning from helping Barisan Nasional’s election campaign in Sabah’s September state elections.
The reintroduction of a conditional movement control order (CMCO) in the Klang Valley later also caused trial dates in November last year to be deferred to December, but the trial subsequently did not go on in December as it was postponed to January 2021 as Najib had to attend the Dewan Rakyat sitting in December.
In other words, today is the first day that Najib’s 1MDB trial is resuming this year, after more than three months of disruption since the last hearing date on September 17, 2020.
The 1MDB trial has only been paused or shortened in the past on certain days for unavoidable situations, such as in September and October 2019 when Najib had eye infections and swollen eyes, or when a witness was ill and could not testify in court.
But the High Court had also in November 2019 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 in October 2019 given stern comments after scheduling issues in Najib’s parliamentary speech resulted in the trial being postponed.
Trial dates are particularly precious for the courts, as hearing dates have to be managed to avoid overlaps in scheduling between different cases such as those involving Najib who faces more than one criminal case, and also based on the availability of lawyers and courts which handle multiple cases.
Other than the 1MDB trial, another criminal case which Najib will be personally facing in the High Court this month is his joint trial with former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy over the alleged tampering of the Auditor-General’s audit report on 1MDB.
Najib’s and Arul Kanda’s joint trial is scheduled to be heard on January 18 to January 21, with other hearing dates already fixed in the months of February, March and April this year.