Malaysia 1MDB case: Hearing for Najib’s final appeal begins as critics slam his bid to ‘play games’
Malaysia’s Federal Court on Thursday (Aug 18) began hearing oral submissions in Najib Razak ’s final appeal against corruption convictions linked to a former unit of the scandal-tainted state fund 1MDB, after several attempts by the ex-premier’s lawyers to postpone proceedings earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the top court had dismissed Najib’s application to admit new evidence in a bid to secure a retrial, and also threw out an application by his lawyers to postpone the hearing by four months to allow them more time to prepare.
Proceedings on Thursday were also delayed in the morning, when Najib’s lead counsel, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, applied to discharge himself from the case on grounds that he was not ready to defend his client.
The court’s five-member bench, chaired by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, ruled that Hisyam could not remove himself from his current role, especially as it would leave his client unrepresented.
“(The) superior court has inherent jurisdiction to ensure courts function properly. You (Hisyam) are the key actor in ensuring this works. The court has authority to protect its processes,” Tengku Maimun said when delivering the ruling.
Najib later said in a statement that he opposed the hearing proceeding despite his lawyer’s wish to discharge himself, saying his “rights to life, liberty and right to a fair hearing is at stake”.
The hearing began with the prosecution presenting its case, as the appellant’s counsel – who would typically be the first to argue the merits of their case – chose not to present oral submissions and instead informed the court that they were satisfied with their written submissions filed earlier.
Hisyam had taken on Najib’s case barely a month before the apex court was due to hear the appeal, after the former premier dropped his previous legal team that had represented him from the start of his case four years ago.
The latest manoeuvres by Najib’s lawyers were roundly criticised by the legal fraternity and the opposition, which accused him and his legal team of deliberately trying to delay proceedings.
“I feel sick to my stomach seeing the Court being held to ransom like this. Every single lawyer bone in my body says this is wrong,” Syahredzan Johan, a lawyer and member of the Democratic Action Party, said on Twitter. “You know what? Only rich people can play games like this. Poor people have no such luxury.”
Some commentators meanwhile criticised attacks by some social media users against the chief justice who appeared to be aligned with Najib’s influential United Malays National Organisation (Umno).
Key figures within Umno – which is the country’s de facto ruling party – on Wednesday also openly took issue with the court’s decision not to admit new evidence.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a key ally of Najib who himself is facing trial for corruption, said in a statement that while the party was not seeking to interfere with the judiciary, “we believe that justice need not only be done but it must be seen to be done”.
The party’s deputy president Mohamad Hasan meanwhile said “while Umno agrees with and respects the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied, Umno also stresses that justice hurried is justice buried”.
“Sickening that Umno are trying to undermine the Judiciary now, the CJ specifically,” lawyer Lim Wei Jiet wrote on Twitter. “It is not perfect, but one of the final bastions of independent institutions left in – and they have no qualms of dragging it down to free a kleptocrat.”
This is Najib’s last shot at overturning a 12-year jail term, after he was found guilty in 2020 of several counts of corruption and abuse of power linked to SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB.
He also faces dozens of other charges linked to 1MDB in separate cases. Najib has denied all wrongdoing.
The hearing is scheduled to be completed on Aug 26.