Najib’s Lawyer Wanted to Discharge Himself in the Last Minute During Appeal Hearing

Credit has to be given when it is due, even if it is for the worst possible things.

Fact: Datuk Seri Najib Razak, ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia, is trying every trick in the book to delay the appeal hearings that may overturn his jail sentence for corruption, likely because he knows that this is a case he will not win.

He just wants more time outside to enjoy the luxuries of his ill-begotten gains before he steps into the austere and cold prison cell, okay?

The 1MDB, The Corruption

Here’s a quick refresher for all the chicanery that Najib has been up to:

Shortly after Najib and his ruling party were defeated in the 2018 elections—by his ancient mentor no less—he was investigated and tried for his involvement in a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The 69-year-old politician and his clique were then accused of stealing billions from the country’s investment fund and fraudulently spending it on high-end real estate and pricey art.

What is with narcissists and self-portraits, seriously? (Read: Donald Trump.)

After a long and high-profile High Court trial, Najib was convicted of three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering, and one count of abuse of power in July 2020.

It was found that he had transferred RM42 million (S$13million) from a former 1MDB unit to his own bank account.

Thus, the ex-leader was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million.

He appealed but this sentence was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 8 December 2021.

Refusing to give up on the possibility of overturning his conviction, Najib filed a petition of appeal to the Federal Court on 25 April this year.

This is Najib’s last desperate plea, for any ruling from the Federal Court will be final.

Second Bid To Adduce Evidence

At this point, the Malaysian justice system is out for Najib’s blood, and for fairly good reasons too.

Najib tried almost everything that was in the books to lengthen the process.

The ex-leader resorted to discharging his lead defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, just two weeks shy of the first scheduled hearing.

The court was told on 26 July that Hisyam Teh Poh Teik from Messrs Hisyam Teh will be the main counsel leading the appeal, while lawyers from Messrs Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners will be co-counsels.

Mr Hisyam and his team got to work immediately by trying to adduce fresh evidence.

“To adduce fresh evidence” in legalese, refers to the admission to new evidence on appeal.

In order for new evidence to be accepted, it must meet three requirements:

First, non-availability; whereby the evidence could not be obtained with reasonable diligence for use during the trial. Secondly, its relevance; it must have an important influence on the result of the case and the evidence must be credible and believable to a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury.

The first attempt was truly something, as Najib’s defence counsel decided to strike doubt about the initial ruling by pointing out that High Court Judge Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali was previously under the employment of Maybank.

Most of the evidence Najib’s lawyers tried to slip into the case was aimed at showing that there was a conflict of interest or bias in Judge Nazlan’s final judgement against Najib in the July 2020 ruling.

They also tried to link Judge Nazlan to Maybank’s financial decision to give out loans to SRC’s parent company 1MBD so it could invest in Tanjong Energy Holdings and Putra Perdana Development in 2014, simply because he was the bank’s general counsel and company secretary from 2005 to 2015.

Honestly, the argument about Judge Nazlan somehow being related to the money that ended up in Najib’s AmBank Islamic personal accounts makes zero sense.

The prosecution immediately disputed the relevancy of the new evidence, noting that Maybank loans do not even involve SRC because it was not Maybank’s client.

Needless to say, the arguments were summarily thrown out.

A five-panel judge, led by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, stated that they failed to see how the adduced evidence bore any relation to the first charge on the abuse of power.

Moreover, the prosecution had clarified that Maybank was not involved in the establishment of SRC.

Even if Maybank was involved, it does not justify how Maybank’s involvement—and by extension Judge Nazlan—would pose any significance or sway over the question of abuse of power on the part of the Prime Minister, said Chief Justice Tengku Maimun.

She added that there was “no basis” to prove that Judge Nazlan’s prior professional involvement would affect the findings, nor does it show a conflict of interest or bias in his judgement against Najib.

Hence, the application to adduce fresh evidence was shot down.

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Asking for a Case Deferral

After the Chief Justice dismissed the defence’s attempt to adduce new evidence, Mr Hisyam requested for the case to be deferred for three to four months.

According to The Edge’s reporting, the lead counsel claimed that the defence needed more time to go through the case and was quoted saying that he was not “purposely delaying the appeal”.

Mr Hisyam also mentioned that there were 179 bundles of documents, and given that he had taken up the case two weeks before the appeal hearings, his team needed the time in order to make “serious arguments”.

Chief Justice Tengku Maimun, once more proving why she is the boss of the apex bench, noted that Najib was well-aware of the hearing dates.

Yes, it was within Najib’s right to choose to discharge his former lawyers and appoint a new team, but that does not give him the privilege to turn around and declare that his new defence counsel wasn’t prepared to proceed with the appeals.

Furthermore, the Chief Justice also remarked that the new lawyers are fully cognizant that the hearing dates are fixed in advance, since it was a common procedure in the courtroom. Having said that, the lawyers should also know that they are not entitled to say that they need more to prepare.

In simpler words, you decided to jump in this pit, you die with it.

“We state again that while the appellant is entitled to his right to change his counsel, he is not entitled to make this choice at the expense of the court, the prosecution, or the entire justice system,” said Tungku Maimun, adding that considerable public funds would go to waste if granting a case deferral was the simpler option.

Quitting to Delay The Appeal

Alas, that was not the last card up Najib’s sleeve.

On Thursday (18 Aug), his lead counsel Mr Hisyam suddenly said that he could not lead the defence team due to time constraints.

As such, the court had to stand down briefly to consider the appeal.

Mind you, Mr Hisyam declared this on the day of the first appeal hearing, after the five-judge panel were settled on the bench at about 10am, waiting for the proceedings to begin.

Besides Chief Justice Tengku Maimum Tuan Mat, the other four judges on the bench were Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim and Federal Court judges, Justices Nallini Pathmanathan, Mary Lim Thiam Suan, and Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah.

In the end, they unanimously refused Mr Hisyam’s last-minute attempt to discharge himself, otherwise it would have left Najib unrepresented.

(If the ex-leader was left unrepresented, it would have been a bigger spectacle.)

Mr Hisyam’s antics were not over yet— he later refused to submit any arguments, which forced the court to stand down again for two hours of deliberation.

The five-panel judge ruled that they would not be adjourning the hearing or postponing it, and that they were exercising their own discretion in disallowing Mr Hisyam’s application to discharge himself.

The Chief Justice then ordered the prosecution to make their submissions first, while giving the defence team more time to prepare their arguments.

The hearing must go on, regardless of how obstinate the defence is.

If it was happening in a Singaporean court, we might be hearing an “abuse of process” from the judge about now. 

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