KUALA LUMPUR (April 4): The highly anticipated trial of Datuk Seri Najib Razak involving the transfer of millions of funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former 1Malaysia Development (1MDB) subsidiary, began at the High Court here yesterday, eight months after he was first charged.
The former prime minister tried to prevent the trial from starting by roping in a heavyweight in the legal fraternity — former solicitor-general II Datuk Yusof Zainal Abiden — to submit a motion claiming the seven charges made against him in the SRC case were defective.
Najib is facing three criminal breach of trust charges, one abuse of power and three money laundering charges involving a sum of RM42 million from SRC.
Leading a team of three other lawyers, Yusof wanted the motion, which he submitted late in the morning with a copy only handed by hand to the judge before the trial was scheduled to start at 2pm, to be heard first.
Yusof argued that it was the duty of the court as well as the prosecution and defence to ensure that the charges were framed properly as the matter involved the liberty of a person. It is Najib’s right to have the charges clarified, he added.
He further contended that the charges were defective as they were not properly drafted to meet the conditions of the Criminal Procedure Code.
However, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, who is leading the prosecution in the case, said this was just another delay tactic employed by the defence to prevent the trial from starting, and questioned why the motion was made at the eleventh hour when Najib was first charged on July 4.
Senior lawyer and appointed prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram also defended the charges and said the court should let the trial begin. He also said the prosecution was willing to take the risk and with that being the case, it would be to the defence’s advantage.
After hearing the submissions, Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali ordered the trial to begin and ruled that the motion would be heard later, at another time. “There is no impediment to the accused. Let the trial commence,” he said.
Prior to his retirement in 2012, Yusof spent most of his professional career in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), where he had prosecuted, among others, the late Perwaja Steel Bhd chairman Tan Sri Eric Chia in 2004, and later PKR de-facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in what was known as the Sodomy II trial in 2010.
On leaving public office, Yusof entered private practice, where last year he appeared briefly to represent Najib alongside lawyer M Puravalen when the former premier was questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
Yesterday, Yusof brought his own legal team, comprising Datuk Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin, Datuk Chong Loong Men and S Devanandan. All four were former prosecutors in the AGC, just like lead consel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.
In the motion, the defence sought to freeze all proceedings before the High Court, pending the disposal of the application. The defence argued the charges were defective as they did not state how the offences occured, and because they had been amended several times.
As the trial proceeded, Thomas read out his opening statement that highlighted that this is the first of a series of charges linked to 1MDB, and that the prosecution would try and prove how RM42 million sourced from 1MDB’s former subsidiary, SRC, were channelled through SRC’s unit, Gandingan Mentari Sdn Bhd and Ihsan Perdana Sdn Bhd, into Najib’s accounts.
The first witness called was Mohamad Akmaludin Abdullah from the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM), who testified that SRC was formed in 2011, and that Gandingan Mentari and Ihsan Perdana are its subsidiaries.
The prosecution then submitted 50 documents in relation to SRC’s company details that were obtained from SSM, which the witness certified as true documents, and which the court then marked as evidence for the case.
Before the court adjourned after hearing went on for a little over three hours, Thomas proposed that the next hearing be on April 8 and 9. He also informed Justice Mohd Nazlan of High Court Judge Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah’s decision that he was prepared to vacate the dates he had fixed for the 1MDB case — April 15 to May 3 — to accommodate the SRC trial.
However, Muhammad Shafee objected to having the next hearing be fixed in the coming week, saying it would not be convenient for him as he had other cases to attend to at the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal.
In response, Thomas said no single member of either the defence or prosecution team should be indispensable, adding that the prosecution too would have certain team members coming and going throughout the trial to attend to other cases. This is why both the prosecution and defence have large teams, Thomas argued.
Thomas added that the prosecution would not seek an adjournment just because he is not available on any of the dates during the SRC trial.
In response, Muhammad Shafee’s co-counsel Harvinderjit Singh said their other trial dates were fixed prior to yesterday’s hearing. “How about our other trials? Is our client (Najib) not entitled to his counsel of choice?” Harvinderjit asked.
Muhammad Shafee added that he would need to be present to supervise his team.
Justice Mohd Nazlan later fixed for trial to resume on April 15 till May 10.
Among those who turned up to observe the court proceedings yesterday were Sarawak Report editor, Clare Rewcastle-Brown, who later told reporters “it is good to see the trial finally going ahead”.
“It is about getting justice, and getting the right results from the trial.
So I think it is about Malaysia getting vindication ... I’m sure everyone is relieved that the proceedings have begun,” she said as she left the court complex to boos and jeers from some 50 Najib supporters who had also come to see the trial.
Najib later departed amid chants of “Malu apa, bossku?” (What’s there to be ashamed of, my boss?) from his supporters. Also seen at the court house was one of Najib’s sons, Noorashman, while Najib’s wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, was notably absent.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 4, 2019.