Malaysia’s top court rejects Najib’s request for retrial, delay in appeal

Muzliza Mustafa
Putrajaya, Malaysia
Malaysia’s top court rejects Najib’s request for retrial, delay in appeal Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (third from left) walks out of a federal courtroom after judges rejected his request for a retrial in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Aug. 16, 2022.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Updated at 1:03 p.m. ET on 2022-08-16

Malaysia’s Federal Court on Tuesday rejected former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s petition to present new evidence related to his conviction for corruption, clearing the way for a final hearing on his appeal of a 12-year-sentence in a case linked to the 1MDB financial scandal.

A five-judge panel unanimously turned down his legal team’s request for a retrial of Najib's conviction by a lower court and to postpone the long-awaited hearings on his appeal by several months. The hearings, now set to begin in full this Thursday, will determine if Najib will become the first sitting or former PM to go to prison in Malaysian history.

On Monday, Najib’s lawyers argued in federal court that Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali, the Kuala Lumpur High Court judge who presided over the ex-leader’s trial and conviction in the SRC International case, had an alleged conflict of interest. The judge, they said, was tainted because he had been associated with a bank that did business with 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), according to information that came out after Nazlan handed down the ruling against Najib in July 2020.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the panel headed by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said the court could not find any link that could lead to “a real danger of bias” and there was “no miscarriage of justice.” 

The judges found that “the entirety of the additional evidence sought to be introduced … is, in our view, irrelevant to the charges preferred against the applicant and fails to disclose any conflict of interest on the part of Justice Nazlan,” Tengku Maimun, Malaysia’s first female chief justice, said as she read out the 20-page decision.

Nazlan’s role and involvement in the bank was not a secret, because the information could have been discovered or obtained if the defense had used “reasonable diligence,” the top court said after more than two hours of deliberation.

“All motions … are hereby dismissed,” Tengku Maimun declared, forcing Najib’s legal team to proceed with his final appeal.

SRC International is a subsidiary of 1MDB, a state investment established by Najib in 2009, when he served as prime minister and finance minister. 

The 69-year-old former leader has yet to serve a single day in a jail cell and is out on bail, pending the outcome of the appeal before the country’s highest court.

In recent weeks, Najib had made other legal attempts to persuade the federal judges to delay the appeal, but the justices of the nation’s top court did not budge.  

After emerging from the courtroom, Najib, said the judges’ decision shocked and disappointed him.

“I believe that the additional evidence would have clearly indicated that Nazlan was heavily [involved in] conflict [of interest], and he was very much aware of the 1MDB and SRC transactions,” Najib told reporters at the federal courthouse.

“I hope we will be able to show the truth on the matter in the final appeal.”

Lead defense counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik (right) speaks to reporters as his client, former Prime Minister Najib Razak, stands by his side after a hearing at the Federal Court in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Aug. 16, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Court: Najib ‘not entitled to make this choice’

On Tuesday, the Federal Court panel also flatly refused the defense’s request for a delay to the appeal phase. Najib’s lead counsel, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, had asked the judges for more time to prepare for the case because the ex-prime minister had hired them as his new legal team only at the end of last month.

“There are 179 bundles of documents. This is no ordinary case … and there are strong points of law. Serious arguments will be made,” Hisyam said, asking for a three- to four-month extension. 

However, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun said the court found that the request and reasons for the delay were “neither cogent nor reasonable” because Najib was aware of the hearing date well in advance.

She also said that while Najib had a right to change his lawyers, “he is not entitled to make this choice at the expense of the Court, the prosecution or the entire justice system.”

“Justice delayed in this case is also justice denied to other accused persons,” she added.

Hisyam said he was at a loss for words because the court did not consider even the delay request.

“We put up strong grounds. I thought the court would be sympathetic and exercise its discretion, and we feel there is a basis for them to exercise their discretion in our favor. But unfortunately, it was not so,” Hisyam told reporters on Tuesday evening.

The prosecution team did not issue any statements.

Former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor (center) arrives at the Federal Court in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Aug. 16, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Najib’s last legal chance

The Federal Court had fixed Aug. 15 to 19 and Aug. 23 to 26 to hear Najib’s appeal, where his lawyers cited 94 reasons why he should be freed from the conviction.

Najib was first charged in connection with the theft of billions of U.S. dollars from 1MDB in July 2018. After a two-year trial, he was convicted of seven charges, including abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering, concerning 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.4 million) of SRC International money 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 as a national interest venture, had become a national embarrassment. 

Najib denies all allegations. He is out on 2 million ringgit ($448,500) bail.

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. 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.

Commenting in light of the Federal Court’s decision Tuesday, a political analyst said Najib’s future in politics as a senior leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) – the party that has dominated Malaysian government for decades – was in peril.

“We can equate this final hearing to a sudden-death battle between the final hearing and the future of Najib Razak’s political career,” Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a political analyst and associate professor at University Malaya, told BenarNews.

“It is getting more critical now as he is facing the possibility of having the worst outcome.”

Subel Rai Bhandari in Bangkok and Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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