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Sri Ram says no conflict of interest in acting for Wong & Partners in 1MDB civil suit

KUALA LUMPUR (May 12): Former Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram (pictured) has said there is no conflict of interest in him representing law firm Wong & Partners and its partner Brian Chia Hock Gee against a US$1 billion suit filed against them by 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

This comes after reports saying 1MDB and its former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd had filed several civil suits to recover billions of dollars in losses suffered by the firms. Six suits were filed by 1MDB and its subsidiaries, while another 16 were by SRC.

One of the suits was against Wong & Partners and Chia for a sum of US$1 billion and payment of legal fees of RM664,821.21 for their alleged role in the fraud. The law firm had represented 1MDB in the past.

Wong & Partners in a statement on its website said Sri Ram and former president of the Malaysian Bar Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan were acting as counsels on the firm's behalf.

Sri Ram is also acting as appointed prosecutor for the Attorney General's Chambers in the ongoing 1MDB-Tanore criminal trial against former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for which he is charged with power abuse and money laundering involving over RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.

Speaking to theedgemarkets.com, Sri Ram said there is no conflict of interest in this instance and that he has to defend Chia as he is an important prosecution witness in the 1MDB-Tanore trial as well.

"There is no conflict. Brian is an important witness for me in the ongoing 1MDB-Tanore trial," he said.

"He is a member of Wong & Partners and is the primary target for the suit. I have to defend him in both arenas," said Sri Ram.

Wong & Partners said it is "very disappointed" by the decision of 1MDB to file a civil suit against the firm.

In its statement, Wong & Partners said its role in 1MDB was merely in an "advisory capacity" and that it had acted with the required degree of care and skill in carrying out its work.

"Following a comprehensive review of our work for 1MDB, and with the advice of our counsel — retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram and former president of the Malaysian Bar Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan — we firmly believe that the plaintiff's claim has no merit and no basis in fact and law.

"As such we will vigorously defend the firm and our lawyers against these baseless allegations," the firm said.

Wong & Partners said that throughout its engagement by 1MDB, "the firm was instructed by the 1MDB board, management, and/or individuals duly authorised to instruct on their behalf and acted with the required degree of care and skill".

Ambiga has also confirmed with theedgemarkets.com that she is indeed acting as counsel for Wong & Partners in this matter.

Najib, former Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar, as well as former 1MDB chief executive officers Datuk Shahrol Ibrahim Halmi and Arul Kanda Kandasamy are among those who are being sued.

One of the six suits filed by 1MDB was against Deutsche Bank (Malaysia) Ltd, Coutts & Co Ltd, JP Morgan (Switzerland) Ltd and two PetroSaudi companies for alleged negligence, breach of contract, conspiracy to defraud the company and dishonest assistance to defraud to the total amount of US$4.923 billion (about RM20.22 billion).

Also named in the suits were fugitive businessman Jho Low, his father Tan Sri Low Hock Peng, sister Low May Lin and accomplice Eric Tan Kim Loong from whom 1MDB is seeking a total of US$1.402 billion.

A suit was also filed against Najib's stepson and Hollywood producer Riza Aziz. 1MDB is said to have sought US$250 million from The Wolf of Wall Street award-winning producer. 1MDB is claiming wilful blindness, reckless indifference and the need to investigate the source of Riza's funds.

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