An appeal court panel on Monday postponed the opening of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s corruption trial, ruling in favor of the defense which sought the delay.
No new date was given for the start of Najib’s trial on seven of 42 charges against him, and which was to begin Tuesday with nine prosecution witnesses prepared to testify, according to reports.
“It is our unanimous view that if a stay is not granted and the trial proceeds, it will render the proceeding a nullity that would result in a waste of time and public money,” a three-judge panel of the Malaysian Court of Appeal ruled Monday.
Najib filed an application on Friday to postpone the trial after Attorney General Tommy Thomas had petitioned a day earlier to revert seven charges from the High Court to the Sessions Court.
Thomas said that the procedure he used in August 2018 to transfer the charges to the High Court from the lower court could be legally challenged and that he would repeat the procedure to ensure that did not happen.
“These procedural steps are necessary to prevent any unnecessary postponement of the trial,” Thomas wrote in his petition on Thursday, stating that his team would nevertheless be ready for the opening of the trial on Feb. 12.
Najib faces trial on seven charges related to accusations that 42 million ringgit (about U.S. $10.3 million) was illegally diverted into his personal bank accounts from SRC International, a subsidiary of the beleaguered 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.
The charges include three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count involving abuse of power.
The former prime minister, who founded 1MDB in 2009, is expected to face additional trials on a total of 42 charges related to the fund’s loss of billions of dollars. The U.S. Justice Department, which has also filed criminal cases linked to the 1MDB scandal, called it the “worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times.”
Thomas, who is the lead prosecutor, argued that the trial must not be postponed because it was a public interest case. He added that the stay application was a tactic to delay the trial.
Appeals Court Justice Ahmadi Asnawi agreed with Thomas that the case was of public interest, but disagreed on his argument for moving ahead with the trial.
“We were of the view that we do not find any evidence of legal tactics to delay the hearing,” Ahmadi said.
Najib is facing 27 money laundering charges, nine criminal breach of trust, five power abuse and one for audit tampering. Since he was first charged in July 2018 in connection with the scandal, Najib has proclaimed his innocence and maintained that he never stole any of the Malaysian people’s money.
On Monday, members of the public said they understood the complexity of the case against Najib and were not surprised by a delay.
Security specialist Khen Han Ming said the prosecution and defense should be given enough time to build their arguments.
“This is a complex case. Give them time. If the defense has ground to appeal for a postponement, let them. At this point, we should not allow a trial by media,” he said.
Another Malaysian, Najma, 35, agreed.
“Everyone deserves a fair hearing,” she said, adding, “this is a first time the case has been delayed, anyway.”