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SRC appeal: Defence's claim that Najib's signatures were forged was an afterthought, prosecution says

PUTRAJAYA (April 20): The defence's claim that signatures of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (pictured) were forged in several documents related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd's (1MDB) former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd was an afterthought as the issue was never raised during investigations and the prosecution's case, the prosecution argued today. 

Ad hoc prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram submitted that the dispute over the authenticity of Najib's signatures were only brought up to rebut the finding of the court at the close of the prosecution’s case that the former premier was in fact the agent and shadow director of SRC based on the seven disputed documents.

If the documents were indeed forged, Sithambaram said Najib could have brought attention to the matter when he was called in for investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) but the signatures were instead confirmed to the investigating officer. 

"Therefore, we submit that it is abundantly clear that this line of defence is clearly an afterthought, as the defence never raised this issue either before trial under Section 62 MACC Act or during trial in their cross-examination of prosecution witnesses," he told the three-member bench of judges at the Court of Appeal today. 

During his testimony as the first defence witness before High Court judge Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali in 2019, Najib claimed that his signatures were forged and manipulated, and that he required an expert to examine the signatures to determine its authenticity. 

Among documents in question are six different shareholders' minutes of SRC and a letter dated Dec 24, 2014, relating to transfer instructions by SRC, all signed by Najib.

Interestingly, after the expert, Dr Steven Strach from Australia, came to Malaysia and conducted a detailed forensic examination of the documents, the defence decided not to call him to present his report to the court. 

The defence then said that an "impasse has arisen relating to the terms of Dr. Strach’s appointment" and that the defence was unable to proceed with the expert. 

To this, Sithambaram contended that the reason given for not producing the report is unacceptable, as the defence should be able to find a suitable replacement to continue with the document examination, considering Najib adamantly wanted an expert to examine the documents before he would acknowledge any of his own signatures. 

"It must be remembered that the forthcoming document examiner’s report was the basis for the refusal by the Appellant (Najib) to confirm the authenticity of the documents. The Appellant withheld his answers on the documents until their authenticity is confirmed by the expert. 

"As the expert was not called, it follows that the documents can no longer be ruled inadmissible, as the admissibility was determined at the close of the prosecution case and the defence has failed to rebut the same with their expert report," Sithambaram further submitted. 

During his rebuttals today, Sithambaram highlighted a few instances during the trial, where Najib made contradictory statements in relation to his claim that his signatures were forged in the related documents. 

In one such incident, the prosecutor noted that Najib was uncertain as to whether he signed two of the shareholder minutes, but was very certain that the SRC board of directors had deliberated and acted upon them. 

"His knowledge and certainty that the shareholder minutes were acted upon by the SRC Board, could only mean that these documents were genuine and that he signed them," Sitambaram said. 

In another instance, Sithambaram said Najib had changed his position from not being able to verify the documents to being unable to remember signing those documents.

"The reason given by the Appellant for being unable to confirm the signature was because the original document was not produced in Court.  But even when the original document was shown, he still could not confirm his signature.  This is another failed attempt by the Appellant as to the reason he could not identify the signature," Sithambaram said.

"By abandoning the expert report after repeatedly raising doubts on his signatures through his sworn testimony, the Appellant has failed to raise any doubt that his signatures were indeed forged. The disputed documents had already been produced and marked as exhibits.  

"Therefore, the Respondent submits that the Appellant’s signatures on all related documents must be accepted as his signature, as they have been acted upon contemporaneously at the relevant time. The learned Judge was right to find that the Appellant’s entire evidence on his signature is nothing but a convenient afterthought from the totality of the evidence adduced," he added, concurring with the findings of the trial judge.  

Najib is currently appealing against his conviction of all seven charges – one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust and three counts of money laundering – related to the RM42 million of SRC that went into his personal accounts. 

For this, Najib was sentenced to 12 years’ jail and fined RM210 million. 

The appeal hearing continues tomorrow. 

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