Judge to rule June 15 if Lokman Adam guilty of contempt over intimidation of Najib’s 1MDB trial witness

Former Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court May 19, 2021. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Former Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court May 19, 2021. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — Former Umno member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam should be found guilty of contempt of court as he seriously interfered with the administration of justice by asking for Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s ongoing trial over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) to be halted, Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram argued today.

Sri Ram is the lead prosecutor of Najib’s 1MDB trial and is also acting for the prosecution in Lokman’s contempt case.

In the High Court’s hearing this morning of contempt of court proceedings against Lokman, Sri Ram argued that Lokman should be found guilty of the offence of contempt as he had intimidated a prosecution witness in the 1MDB trial through his police report and remarks made in a video interview on September 25, 2019.

In arguing why Lokman should be found guilty of contempt of court, Sri Ram said that Lokman had been “virulent” in his attacks on prosecution witnesses in the 1MDB trial, with verbal attacks made against Najib’s former aide Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin and former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi.

Sri Ram said that freedom of speech could not be used to justify the threatening of witnesses, also noting that Lokman had asked for Najib’s charges in the ongoing 1MDB trial to be dismissed.

“He (Lokman) relies on his right of freedom of speech. His right of freedom of speech does not include threatening my witnesses and attacking and asking the courts to dismiss the charges against the accused (Najib) because there is no case.

“I respectfully submit this is a proper case for Your Lordship to convict because there is abundant evidence on the statements made, there is intention to interfere with due administration of justice, an attempt to set aside the case before Your Lordship,” he told High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.

Sequerah is the judge hearing both Lokman’s contempt of court case and Najib’s 1MDB trial.

Later in his arguments, Sri Ram pointed out that Lokman had in his September 2019 remarks asked the High Court to stop Najib’s 1MDB trial by claiming that it did not make sense for Najib to be tried as he was allegedly victimised (teraniaya).

“So he says ‘We now request all of Datuk Seri Najib’s trial to stop. The trial is ‘kes sampah’ (rubbish). The trial has proven that Najib is wrongly targeted while the actual person is Jho Low’,” Sri Ram quoted Lokman as having stated in September 2019.

“It’s not difficult to see what the target of these comments is, the target is the trial itself.

“This is our respectful submission, the facts disclosed admit a fair inference that the respondent (Lokman) intended to interfere with the administration of justice. This is fortified by his other statements in the same interview. He says this is why I request the case to be aborted, do not waste too much of the rakyat’s money, so his target is the trial,” Sri Ram said.

“On the facts before Your Lordship, I think there is no other inference admissible except that the accused (Lokman) intended the trial be stopped,” Sri Ram said, adding that in other words that Lokman had meant that the accused Najib is innocent and should be acquitted in the 1MDB trial.

“So he’s asking the court to prejudge the case without hearing all the evidence. That in our respectful submission is a serious interference of the administration of justice,” he said.

“So in our respectful submission, the defence mounted this morning does not answer the charge and therefore we respectfully invite Your Lordship to convict the respondent (Lokman) of the offence of contempt,” he said.

Lokman’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah meanwhile argued that there were technical defects in the contempt of court case against his client, arguing that a court document by the prosecution had failed to specifically state which particular remarks in Lokman’s police report and video interview amounted to the threat against Amhari and resulted in contempt.

He said the allegations of contempt against Lokman should be reduced to be almost like a charge, arguing that the lack of such details is prejudicial against Lokman.

Citing the prosecution’s written statement which required Lokman to show cause in order to not be cited with contempt, Shafee argued that this statement however had not specified the alleged contemptuous remarks other than mentioning Lokman’s police report and video interview, and that the prosecution had relied on an affidavit to provide details of the allegations that he should answer.

“They are saying it’s also a contempt, because of what you said about Amhari, you have also threatened other potential witnesses. What is clearly missing is what are the words used that would have penetrated the minds of witnesses that they think also is a threat. Amhari himself never complained, he never said ‘I’m threatened’,” Shafee argued, adding that Amhari had already finished testifying as a prosecution witness in the 1MDB trial by the time Lokman made his remarks.

While the High Court judge noted that the specific details were explained in the prosecution’s affidavit to give Lokman an idea of what caused the contempt proceedings to be initiated and suggested “surely he can’t be clueless as to the contents of the contempt against him”, Shafee insisted that the details should be in the prosecution’s written statement for the contempt case itself.

“The affidavit cannot repair what is defective in the statement, the statement is self-contained, it is the heart of the matter,” Shafee argued.

The judge however suggested that this would be an issue of form rather than substance, later noting as an analogy that a criminal charge is not defective if the accused is not misled or if there is no prejudice. But Shafee insisted that his client Lokman has been prejudiced.

Shafee also argued that lodging a police report is an absolute privilege against being brought to court for defamation, arguing that this should extend to contempt cases when freedom of speech is exercised within limits.

He argued that it would otherwise defeat the public interest of encouraging the public to lodge police reports when things go wrong if the absolute privilege is not extended to avoid being cited for contempt, suggesting that the public would then have to resort to protests instead: “Otherwise they will go into the street and protest and become violent.”

Shafee argued that contempt of court would require the action of both creating a real risk of interference with the administration of justice through unlawful means such as threatening a witness, as well as the necessary intent to do so.

Shafee argued that lodging a police report was a lawful method used by Lokman to ask for alleged wrongdoings to be probed in relation to Amhari confirming during the 1MDB trial to having previously borrowed money from Low Taek Jho, and should not be seen as contempt of court.

Shafee said Lokman had denied saying anything to intimidate Amhari and had also denied having any intention to impede the course of justice, also arguing later that there was no real risk of interference with the course of justice.

The judge noted that the “whole sting” of Lokman’s remarks as a whole were focused on claiming that there was no merit to Najib’s trial, while Shafee again argued that the prosecution’s statement against Lokman was defective.

The judge however suggested that this would be an issue of form rather than substance, later noting as an analogy that a criminal charge is not defective if the accused is not misled or if there is no prejudice. But Shafee insisted that his client Lokman has been prejudiced.

In response to Shafee’s arguments, Sri Ram pointed out that Lokman’s case is a case of contempt and not a case of defamation.

Sri Ram also said Shafee could not use the same arguments of the alleged technical defects in the prosecution’s statement requiring Lokman to defend himself in the contempt case, as Shafee had raised identical arguments at the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court and failed at all three levels in trying to set aside the contempt case against Lokman.

Sri Ram also argued that trial witnesses should not be intimidated even after the trial and that such intimidation would amount to contempt, also noting that exerting “improper pressure” on a witness would be an “unlawful means” that would result in contempt.

“Unlawful means includes a threat to do an otherwise lawful act, so even though lodging of police report, though prima facie lawful, may constitute unlawful pressure,” he said.

Shafee later argued that he could still raise the arguments of alleged technical defects in Lokman’s contempt case, as the arguments were previously raised only in hearings involving Lokman’s application to set aside leave to initiate the case and not the actual hearing of contempt today.

After hearing the arguments by both Shafee and Sri Ram in the contempt of court proceedings, High Court judge Sequerah said he would deliver his decision on June 15 on whether Lokman had committed the offence of contempt of court.

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