Lawyers protest probe of judge who convicted ex-PM Najib on corruption charges

Ronnie Bergman and Noah Lee
2022.06.17
Kuala Lumpur
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Lawyers protest probe of judge who convicted ex-PM Najib on corruption charges Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (center) leaves a courthouse in Kuala Lumpur after a High Court judge convicted him on corruption charges, July 28, 2020.
[AP]

Nearly 1,000 lawyers staged another protest Friday against the anti-graft agency’s investigation of the judge who found former Prime Minister Najib Razak guilty of corruption in the 1MDB scandal, saying it amounted to intimidation of the judiciary.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which launched a probe earlier this year against Judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali over an alleged unexplained sum of more than U.S. $200,000 in his bank account, has insisted it did nothing irregular.

But the protesting lawyers, who handed the deputy law minister a memo with a list of demands, said that allegations against sitting judges eroded confidence in the nation’s courts.

“The undue and unwarranted manner in which the MACC publicly announced an investigation and named the judge, has the effect of undermining public confidence in the judiciary, and it is clearly an attack on the independence of the judiciary,” read the document given to the junior minister by Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, president of the Bar Council.

Justice Nazlan had presided over Najib’s 2020 trial on the misappropriation of funds from SRC International, a unit of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund that the former prime minister established in 2009 while in office.

In July 2020, Nazlan, then a High Court judge, convicted Najib of seven charges and sentenced him to 12 years in jail and a fine of 210 million ringgit (U.S. $47.7 million). The ex-PM has yet to serve any jail time as he appeals that ruling.

In 2018 raids on premises linked to Najib, police seized 284 boxes of high-priced designer handbags – many of them Hermès Birkin bags – and 72 suitcases containing cash, jewelry and other luxury items

Najib was convicted on charges including abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering over allegations that he had illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.9 million) from SRC International.

Last December, Najib lost an appeal against that conviction in the Court of Appeal, the country’s second highest court. He is out on bail pending a hearing on his final appeal at the Federal Court scheduled for Aug. 15-26.

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A lawyer holds a poster defending judicial independence, during a protest at the Padang Merbok car park in Kuala Lumpur, June17, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

In April, the anti-graft agency acknowledged it was investigating Justice Nazlan over an alleged unexplained large sum of money in his bank account. Nazlan, who was promoted to the Court of Appeal in February, has denied the allegations.

At that time, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat expressed her disapproval at the action by the anti-corruption agency.

She described the allegations leveled against judges as “a bit too much,” in a speech at the swearing-in ceremony of High Court judges in April.

“Whilst we cannot control the words or actions of some quarters who are bent on tarnishing or destroying the image of the judiciary, it is within our control to ensure that no one meddles in our affairs,” she said.

“And, interference will not happen, so long as cases are decided without fear or favor, without ill-will or motive, without any external or internal pressure and without regard to personalities.”

The agency said last month that it had submitted its report to the Attorney General.

On Friday, Democratic Action Party (DAP) lawmaker Hannah Yeoh, who is a lawyer by training, told a local daily that many people were concerned about the Najib case.

“We are here to make a point that the independence of the judiciary must be respected. I think the entire nation is very concerned with the direction of Najib Razak’s case. The nation awaits for a closure of the case,” she said according to the Malay Mail, referring to Najib’s final appeal at the Federal Court in August.

“Hopefully the lawyers’ statement today preserving the independence of the judiciary will send a loud message and be a catalyst for an awakening of the nation, for people to open their eyes.”

Meanwhile on Friday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government would protect the independence of the judiciary and legislative bodies. He said that he respected the doctrine of the separation of powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary and did not want a conflict between them.

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