PUTRAJAYA, Dec 7 — The Court of Appeal has ordered Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyers to make its case through an online hearing this afternoon after a member of the legal team tested positive for Covid-19.
Judge Datuk Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, who chaired the three-man bench, appeared displeased when Harvinder Singh Sidhu showed up in the courtroom to inform the court of the defence’s wish to postpone today’s hearing.
At the start of the hearing, Abdul Karim asked Harvinder if Najib or his bailors were present.
The lawyer — the only one from the defence team who could be seen present in the courtroom — replied in the negative.
“This is a court of law, not saliva that you can spew at your whim, we need proof to that effect,” Abdul Karim said, adding that the appellant who is Najib, seemed uninterested in accepting the verdict of the court and was using Covid-19 as an excuse as he did not attend the scheduled hearing.
The other usual members of Najib’s legal team, who include his lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Harvinderjit Singh and Farhan Read were also not seen in the courtroom.
“I am issuing this order. I want the hearing of this application to be heard online.
“We will resume hearing online at 12.30pm. This is the court's order, I don't want to hear any excuses anymore.
“Failure to comply and we will do what is necessary.
“Please convey this matter to the appellant,” Abdul Karim said before adjourning the morning hearing.
The other two judges on the panel were Datuk Has Zanah Mehat and Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera.
The appellate court is supposed to hear Najib’s application to add in more evidence to the SRC appeal before judges deliver their decision on the former prime minister’s conviction appeal involving the misappropriation of RM42 million belonging to SRC International Sdn Bhd.
Earlier, Abdul Karim offered the defence two choices following today's turn of events.
One, the court said it could revoke Najib’s bail privileges, which included the RM2 million paid previously, and immediately issue an arrest warrant to compel the former prime minister to show up in person.
Two, the appellate court said it could use its discretionary powers and order the hearing to continue today online.
The judge pointed out that it does not require the consent of either parties as stipulated under the Courts of Judicature Act.
But Harvinder pled to adjourn today’s hearing, saying the defence team was not prepared to submit its case following the Covid-19 scare after one of its members tested positive yesterday.
“If we were to proceed on Zoom, we cannot do it today.
“Counsel for appellant are not prepared for their submissions, then they will be at an disadvantage,” the lawyer said.
But Abdul Karim rejected Harvinder’s postponement request and maintained his order for the hearing to resume at 12.30pm through Zoom. He cited Section 15 of the Courts of Judicature Act.
Najib’s bailor shows up
About 40 minutes into proceedings which started at 9.20am, Faizal Shamsuddin, who is one of the two bailors, entered the courtroom at the Palace of Justice here and was subject to intense questioning from the judge about Najib’s whereabouts.
“Where is he? Why is he not here in court? The bailor is responsible in ensuring the accused is present in court.
“Did you take the trouble to find out? Today has been fixed for hearing. You should have known.
“We can terminate the bail if we are dissatisfied over the reasons given for non-attendance and issue an arrest warrant for Najib today,” Abdul Karim said.
Faizal appeared to be struggling to reply the questions, which only served to frustrate Abdul Karim further.
“Do you know where he is? You yourself are unsure as to Najib’s whereabouts? In his house? You are merely guessing.
“The court is not a coffee shop. This is the court, don’t simply make guesses,” the judge chided.
Harvinder then interjected and told the court that Najib is currently undergoing self-quarantine at home.
Abdul Karim dryly replied that the court is “well aware of the standard operating procedures”.
Ad hoc prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram expressed his shock at today’s turn of events and remarked that Najib appeared to be “taking every effort to scuttle” today’s hearing as well as the decision scheduled for tomorrow.
He said he had no objections with continuing the hearing online, and urged the court to act according to the law and not set a precedent where Covid-19 infections could be used as an excuse to delay proceedings.
“The law must be complied with. Administration of justice must be done without fear or favour,” Sithambaram said.
In a letter filed and addressed to the Court of Appeal’s registrar sighted by Malay Mail late last night, Muhammad Shafee sought to vacate the hearing for both today and tomorrow, saying his son, Muhammad Farhan tested positive for Covid-19 on December 6.
In his letter, Muhammad Shafee said that Najib had also been present at the legal firm’s office yesterday to affirm several legal documents for filing.
Najib’s application to add in evidence to his SRC appeal was filed on December 1, which is about six months after the Court of Appeal had concluded hearing the appeal in May 2021.
Najib’s application was also filed after the Court of Appeal’s November 23 announcement that it would deliver its decision on the appeal on December 8.
Tomorrow is scheduled for the Court of Appeal to give its decision on whether Najib has succeeded or failed in his appeal against his conviction, fine and jail term in the SRC case.
Najib was appealing the High Court’s July 28, 2020 decision, which had found him guilty of all seven charges relating to SRC’s RM42 million.
The High Court had sentenced Najib to 10 years’ jail for each of six charges (three counts of criminal breach of trust and three counts of money laundering), and had also sentenced him to 12 years’ jail and a RM210 million fine with an additional five years’ jail if the fine is not paid for the abuse of position charge.
The High Court had decided that all jail sentences would run concurrently or at the same time, which would mean a maximum imprisonment of 12 years for Najib.