Report: Sri Ram says no conflict of interest in defending law firm Wong & Partners in 1MDB’s US$1b lawsuit

File picture shows Senior Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram leaving the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex February 18, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
File picture shows Senior Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram leaving the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex February 18, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 12 — Former judge-turned-lawyer Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram has reportedly said that there is no conflict of interest when it comes to him acting for law firm Wong & Partners and its partner Brian Chia Hock Gee in defending them against a civil lawsuit where 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is claiming US$1 billion.

Sri Ram is now a private lawyer after having retired as a Federal Court judge and had also been appointed to lead the prosecution in criminal trials relating to the 1MDB scandal against former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In a report by financial paper The Edge’s news portal, Sri Ram was quoted saying that he has to defend the law firm’s partner as he is a witness for the prosecution in the ongoing 1MDB trial.

“There is no conflict. Brian is an important witness for me in the ongoing 1MDB-Tanore trial,” he said.

“He is a member of Wong & Partners and is the primary target for the suit. I have to defend him in both arenas,” Sri Ram was quoted as saying.

Sri Ram was referring to the ongoing 1MDB trial, where Najib is facing four counts of abuse of power charges and 21 counts of money-laundering charges in relation to more than RM2 billion funds.

Najib’s 1MDB trial is set to resume on May 17 (next Monday), with Najib’s lawyers set to continue cross-examining 10th prosecution witness and former 1MDB CEO Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman. Chia has yet to be called to court to testify as a prosecution witness in the trial.

In an undated statement on Wong & Partners’ website that was sighted last night, the law firm said it was “very disappointed” over the decision to file a civil lawsuit in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur against it over its advisory work in relation to 1MDB, and that it had yet to be served with the court papers while having seen news reports on the lawsuit.

In the same statement, Wong & Partners had said the lawyers representing it for the case are Sri Ram and former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.

Citing the two lawyers’ advice and following a comprehensive review of its work for 1MDB, Wong & Partners said it firmly believed that 1MDB’s lawsuit has “no merit and no basis in facts and law”, and that it would vigorously defend the firm and its lawyers against the allegations which it described as “baseless”.

Wong & Partners also said that the law firm — throughout its past engagement by 1MDB for work — “was instructed by the 1MDB Board, management, and/or individuals duly authorised to instruct on their behalf, and acted with the required degree of care and skill.”

“Nothing the firm did or did not do caused any loss to 1MDB. Therefore, the extraordinary sum claimed is wholly unjustified and an attempt to pressure the firm into a settlement,” the law firm had said in the brief statement.

According to the same report by theedgemarkets.com, Ambiga has confirmed to the portal that she is acting as a lawyer for Wong & Partners over the lawsuit by 1MDB.

On May 10, the Finance Ministry confirmed that 1MDB had filed six lawsuits against a total of nine entities and 25 individuals for various alleged wrongdoings and that 1MDB’s former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd had filed 16 lawsuits against a total of eight entities and 15 individuals for various alleged wrongdoings.

The ministry said the 22 lawsuits filed by 1MDB and SRC on May 7 were to seek for the recovery of assets totalling more than RM96.6 billion (US$23 billion), adding that the two companies claim that the entities and individuals sued had allegedly been unjustly enriched by wrongfully receiving monies from the two companies.

According to theedgemarkets.com, one of the 22 lawsuits had named Wong & Partners and Chia, and is seeking a US$1 billion sum and legal fees of RM664,821.21 for their alleged role in the 1MDB matter.

The news portal also reported that those who were sued in the six lawsuits by 1MDB include Najib, Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, former Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, former 1MDB CEOs Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi and Arul Kanda Kandasamy, fugitive Low Taek Jho and his father and sister and associate Eric Tan Kim Loong, Deutsche Bank (Malaysia) Ltd, Coutts & Co Ltd, JP Morgan (Switzerland) Ltd and two PetroSaudi firms.

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