KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 — Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should be sternly warned to not make attacks over social media against witnesses that will be testifying in court against him, such as Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz.
Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who was leading the prosecution in Najib’s trial over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), today highlighted how Najib as the accused in the trial had made such attacks over Facebook against the former Bank Negara Malaysia governor.
“The accused has on December 29 by way of Facebook posting launched an attack on one of our witnesses, Tan Sri Zeti, former governor of Bank Negara. He appears to be conducting his defence by way of these Facebook postings.
“We take strong exception to this, because it has necessitated the witness to respond. And trials have to take place in a court of law, not in the public domain, certainly not on social media,” he told the court.
Sri Ram indicated that this was not the first time that the prosecution had to complain to the court about Najib’s statements outside of court regarding the ongoing 1MDB trial, referring to the former prime minister’s reported remarks in March 2020 of his hopes of having an environment more conducive to a fair trial following a change in government.
“But the prosecution takes very serious exception to the accused attacking one of our witnesses,” he said, pointing out that Najib would have been aware since August 2019 via court papers that Zeti is on the list of witnesses for the 1MDB trial.
“So being aware that she is a witness, he should not do this,” he said, suggesting that Najib’s action would lead to justice being interfered with.
Sri Ram said however that he did not want to formally apply for a court order to “clip” or revoke Najib’s bail in the 1MDB trial or to apply to cite Najib for a contempt of court order over the attack against a witness, as he did not want to waste the court’s time on this.
“But at the same time, we would be very grateful if Your Lordship can issue a stern warning not to do this to our witnesses,” he said.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah then sought to defend and justify the actions of his client.
“We are put in a predicament, everybody can say everything about my client, they call him a crook, the former prime minister has called him perompak, nobody takes action against these people, the attorney general did nothing,” Shafee said, using the Malay word for “robber”.
Shafee argued that his client Najib was alleged being told to “shut up”, and said it was akin to his client having his hands tied in a boxing match so he could take punches but cannot throw punches, saying: “That is not fair to my client”.
Among other things, Shafee had questioned why others such as fugitive blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin and news portal Free Malaysia Today could also publish similar allegations highlighted by Najib against Zeti over 1MDB-related matters without criticism over their actions, claiming that Najib was not the one who raised the matter first.
Shafee said he has written a letter to ask the Monetary Authority of Singapore to disclose all documents related to the allegations involving bank accounts relating to Zeti’s family.
Shafee said he would need more time to carry out research before presenting further arguments to the court on the matter as he was only made aware of the prosecution’s application this morning.
“Could Yang Arif reserve this matter, don’t make a decision yet, because I would like to submit on the law, whether these are areas which are permissible, it doesn’t border on contempt, it’s allowed in trial even in England as long as it is not an interference with the process of justice,” Shafee said as he asked for time.
The High Court then fixed January 7 (Thursday) to hear further arguments by both Shafee and the prosecution on the latter’s application for the court to sternly warn Najib against making attacks towards prosecution witnesses in his trial.
Today, Sri Ram repeatedly emphasised Zeti is a witness in the 1MDB trial, pointing out that she has also not made any statement against Najib as the accused or attacking the accused.
“So it’s not a proper thing for the accused to conduct his defence by attacking the witness in the media,” he said.
“Our position is this, we are not making complaints about attacks against third persons, but we want assurance from the accused or his counsel that our witnesses will not be attacked, that is important. Witnesses should not be attacked, this is something we cannot accept because it puts us in a very difficult position,” Sri Ram later added.
“We need to make very clear that this attack on our witnesses must stop,” Sri Ram stressed.
On December 29, Najib had in his Facebook post challenged Zeti to respond to allegations that her family had allegedly received funds of over RM100 million including purported funds originating from 1MDB from fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low in their bank accounts in Singapore.
On December 31, Zeti in a press statement said she and her family had never received any money from 1MDB, stressing that such allegations against them are completely false and malicious.
Besides highlighting that she had given full cooperation to the authorities in their investigation of the 1MDB case, Zeti had also said she could not make any further statements as she was a potential witness in Najib’s ongoing criminal trial.