A Malaysian judge on Wednesday ordered a witness to produce evidence that could potentially expose details of fugitive financier Jho Low’s role in the massive 1MDB financial scandal.
The ruling came during the fourth day of former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s landmark corruption trial on seven charges related to the transfer of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10.3 million) from SRC International, a former subsidiary of the beleaguered state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Jho Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, has been linked to Najib and faces his own charges related to the multibillion-dollar scandal.
Judge Nazlan Ghazali of the Kuala Lumpur High Court issued the order during a debate between prosecution and defense attorneys who argued over the admissibility as evidence of Ambank banker Joanna Yu’s Blackberry phone, along with communication transcripts kept by Bank Negara, the nation’s central bank.
“I find that the documents relating to the communications between Joanna Yu and Jho Low is relevant to the trial,” the judge said.
He ordered witness Ahmad Farhan Sharifuddin, a manager at Bank Negara, to produce the evidence during an upcoming court session.
Yu, who worked as Ambank’s relationship manager, handled the accounts of 1MDB, SRC and Najib’s personal account, according to a 2015 Wall Street Journal report.
During cross-examination, Ahmad Farhan told defense attorney Harvinderjit Singh about the items. The attorney then asked him to bring them to court, drawing an objection from the prosecution team.
Lead defense attorney Shafee Abdullah asked the judge to allow the items to be presented.
“In her draft witness statement, Yu said she communicated with Low,” Shafee told the court, pointing out the relevancy of the seized Bank Negara items.
Prosecutors challenged the request, describing it as irrelevant.
“What they are doing is a fishing expedition,” prosecutor V. Sithambaram told the court. “If they keep asking for documents to check whether they are relevant or admissible, this is set to be a long trial.”
The defense team countered by claiming that prosecutors were trying to block Najib from having a fair trial.
“What dark ages are we living in where the accused is not allowed to access evidence that might be useful for his defense?” Harvinderjit said.
In his opening statement earlier this month, Attorney General Tommy Thomas said evidence would show that Najib used his office as prime minister and finance minister to obtain the money.
Najib’s trial opened on April 3, nearly 11 months after his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was swept by the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance in the May 2018 general election.
The 1MDB scandal, in which the U.S. Department of Justice said about $4.5 billion were misappropriated, brought about Najib’s fall and the rise of PH, which campaigned on a platform of cleaning up corruption in government.
The trial on three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of power tied to the transfer of SRC International funds, is the first of what could be several for Najib who faces a total of 42 criminal charges linked to the 1MDB scandal. He could face decades in prison and fines totaling millions of dollars if convicted of all charges.