Najib asks Federal Court to toss SRC conviction, allow retrial

Muzliza Mustafa and Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah
Kuala Lumpur
Najib asks Federal Court to toss SRC conviction, allow retrial Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (center) waves as he arrives for an appeal on his conviction in a 1MDB-linked corruption case at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Aug.15, 2022.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Lawyers for former Prime Minister Najib Razak called for a retrial Monday in a corruption case linked to the 1MDB financial scandal, citing new evidence in a move that could delay his final appeal of a conviction and 12-year sentence ordered in July 2020.

As Najib appeared at the federal courthouse on Monday for his final appeal in the case, the prosecution argued against allowing additional evidence, calling it a “delay tactic” and saying the appeal must go ahead as planned.

“The respondent humbly urges this honorable court to dismiss this application … to adduce additional evidence that are clearly irrelevant to the substantive appeals pending before this honorable court,” lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram told the court.

Najib’s lawyers argued that the trial judge who oversaw the SRC International trial, Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali, had a conflict of interest because he had been associated with a bank that did business with 1Malaysia Development Berhad, according to information that came out after the conviction. SRC is a subsidiary of 1MDB.

“This was never served by the prosecution during the SRC trial. This was discovered only in May 2022,” said defense attorney Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, according to a live report of the hearing posted on The Edge Markets website.

“It is most necessary to have the additional evidence admitted,” he said later.

Hisyam, who was appointed by Najib last month to serve as lead attorney, will have another chance to make his case for a new trial on Tuesday. The Federal Court five-judge panel, led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, will then decide whether to grant a new trial or proceed with the appeal hearing.

The Federal Court fixed Aug. 15 to 19 and Aug. 23 to 26 to hear Najib’s petition, where he cited 94 reasons why he should be freed from the conviction. If the new evidence is allowed, the conviction will be dismissed and he will face retrial on the charges.

Najib was convicted of seven charges, including abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering, in relation to 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.4 million) of SRC International money that was found in his bank accounts. In addition to being sentenced to a dozen years in prison, he was fined 210 million ringgit (U.S. $47 million).

The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and, in a strongly worded judgment, described how SRC, which started off as a national interest venture, had become a national embarrassment. Najib is out on 2 million ringgit ($448,500) bail and has not spent any time in jail.

Meanwhile, the former prime minister is standing trial in another court on 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from 1MDB, the fund he created in 2009 when he served both as prime minister and finance minister. He could face additional trials on 10 outstanding charges.

Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors alleged that at least $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014 in a financial scandal that implicated foreign and local financial institutions and high-ranking officials, including Najib.

Political career at stake

Analysts say that Najib’s political career depends on this appeal and the other cases against him.

Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, a political analyst attached with International Islamic University of Malaysia, said Najib had been given all possible opportunities to prove his innocence and that the judiciary had been stretched to its limits.

“Assuming this appeal favors him, he would surely make a political comeback. And considering his popularity, he would probably be the leading premier candidate for Barisan Nasional. Nonetheless, he still has other cases pending in court and the process can be long,” Tunku Mohar told BenarNews.

If the court decided to uphold the conviction, Tunku Mohar said, Najib would not be able to contest the next three general elections because of his 12-year sentence and an additional five-year ban on political activity.

“If it happened, this could probably spell the end of his political career,” Tunku Mohar said.

James Chin, a political analyst at the University of Tasmania, agreed.

“Everything hinges on the appeal. I think it is the reason why he is fighting so hard,” he said.

Najib, 69, arrived at the Federal Court in Putrajaya, accompanied by loyalists and his son, Mohd Nizar.

Active in politics at a young age, Najib got his first big break 40 years ago when he was elected Pahang state chief minister in 1982 at age 29. He held several cabinet posts before being appointed Malaysia’s sixth prime minister, a post he held from 2009 to 2018 when his Barisan Nasional government suffered a shocking election loss linked to the 1MDB scandal.

Najib, who was represented by the law firm of Muhammad Shafee Abdullah since the first 1MDB charges were filed four years ago, appointed a new legal team to handle the appeal on July 26. The team includes Hisyam as his lead counsel and lawyers Liew Teck Huat and Rueben Mathiavaranam.

Five days earlier, the High Court dismissed British lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw’s application to serve as Najib’s lawyer. The court said Najib had failed to prove there were no Malaysian attorneys with the necessary skills to represent him in the appeal.


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