Court orders Najib’s application to add new evidence to be heard today

PUTRAJAYA: Najib Razak’s application to adduce fresh evidence in a bid to set aside his conviction in the RM42 million SRC International corruption appeal will proceed at 12.30pm today despite a plea by a lawyer for the former prime minister to adjourn the proceedings.

A three-member Court of Appeal bench chaired by Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil said the proceedings will go ahead online as provided for under the Courts of Judicature Act.

He said he did not want to hear any excuse and will decide accordingly later if the order is not complied with.

Counsel Harvinder Singh Sidhu had earlier submitted to the bench that today’s proceedings be postponed to another date as one of the lawyers in Najib’s legal team is down with Covid-19.

Najib was absent from court, and one of his bailors, Faizal Shamsuddin, arrived in the midst of the proceedings.

In a letter filed and addressed to the Court of Appeal’s registrar yesterday, defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah sought to vacate the hearing for both today and tomorrow after one of the team’s lawyers tested positive for Covid-19 after three different tests.

This was after another of the firm’s lawyers told Harvinder and another member of Najib’s legal team that her mother tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the day, which led to all the lawyers at the firm screening themselves as well.

Shafee said the MySejahtera status of all those involved has changed to casual or close contact as they await an appropriate time to conduct a PCR test.

At the outset of today’s hearing, Karim asked the lawyer if Najib was present and Harvinder replied in the negative.

The lawyer also made an application to adjourn today’s proceedings as the defence could not complete its written submission yesterday after the Covid-19 scare in the firm.

Karim said it appeared the parties in the SRC case were not prepared to accept the verdict of the court and used Covid-19 as an excuse.

Ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram said he was shocked by the turn of events, adding that the appellant (Najib) was taking every effort to scuttle the proceeding and scheduled verdict tomorrow.

“The law must be complied with. Administration of justice must be done without fear or favour,” he said.

He said this case should not be allowed as a precedent as others will also use Covid-19 as an excuse.

The senior lawyer, who is prosecuting this case, said the proceedings could go online.

At this juncture, Karim asked if Najib’s bailors were present and Harvinder said Faizal just came in.

Karim then asked Faizal the whereabouts of Najib. “Why is he not here? Did you take the trouble to find out? It is your responsibility. The court is not a coffee shop,” he said.

The judge said an arrest warrant could be issued against Najib for being absent and the RM2 million bail amount could be confiscated.

Harvinder then said Najib was under home quarantine.

Karim retorted, saying: “We know the SOP.”

He offered two options – Najib could be arrested and brought to court to follow the proceedings, or attend the online proceedings as provided for under Section 15 of the Court of Judicature Act.

“We don’t need the consent of parties. We are experienced,” he said, and added that the parties need only make oral submissions today.

The bench then decided the proceedings will go online at 12.30pm.

Last year, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali sentenced Najib to 12 years’ jail and fined him RM210 million after finding him guilty on all seven charges.

Najib was accused of abusing his power as the prime minister by giving government guarantees on SRC International’s RM4 billion loan from the Retirement Fund Inc (KWAP).

He was also slapped with three counts of CBT and three money laundering charges in relation to RM42 million belonging to SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

Court of Appeal gives tongue-lashing to legal team over Najib’s absence

The Court of Appeal has sternly reminded former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak that it is a court of law and not a coffee shop.

Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil who is chairing the bench said this in giving a tongue-lashing to lone defence counsel Harvinder Singh Sidhu and one bailor present during proceedings today.

The panel was reacting to the lawyer’s explanation on Najib’s absence from the hearing due to alleged close contact with a Covid-19 positive person.

Harvinder was asking for a postponement of today’s scheduled hearing for Najib’s application to adduce new evidence in his SRC appeal.

When the bailor, Faizal Shamsuddin, could not answer the panel’s question on the whereabouts of Najib, Karim reminded him and the lawyer that more proof is needed to justify an appellant’s non-attendance at criminal court proceedings.

The judge emphasised that being a bailor is a heavy responsibility as he or she must make effort to always know the whereabouts of the accused and ensure the accused’s attendance in court.

“Today’s hearing date has already been informed and the bailors (two for Najib) have been informed.

“We can cancel the (RM2 million) bail and issue a warrant of arrest for Najib’s non-attendance. You yourself (bailor) do not know why Najib is not here. You are just guessing.

“This is not a coffee shop, this is the court of law, do not just play guessing,” Karim sternly said.

The judge reprimanded the legal team due to only one bailor, Faizal, being present while the other, Alias Yahya, was still on the way.

Covid-19 close contact evidence needed

He reminded Harvinder that it takes more than an oral explanation to substantiate the excuse for Najib’s absence as concrete evidence is needed.

It was not only Najib who was not present but also his lead defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and large numbers of the legal team for alleged casual and close contact with Covid-19.

Lead defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah (right)

“This is the court of law. It is not just ‘air liur’ (saliva) and mere talking. We need proof of the fact (alleged casual or close contact of Najib with a Covid-19 positive person),” Karim said.

When Harvinder tried to apply for the hearing to be vacated to another date, Karim questioned whether this is a tactic to vacate tomorrow’s scheduled decision on Najib’s appeal in the RM42 million SRC corruption case.

The judge noted that the application to adduce fresh evidence was filed last week, which was just days before the decision date in Najib’s appeal to quash his conviction and sentencing for the case.

Zoom proceedings

Karim also pointed out that a criminal court is empowered under the Court of Judicature Act to direct any criminal proceedings to be conducted online.

“We are in the era of (wireless) technology and there are many related practices,” he said, adding that lawyers now can even conduct Zoom proceedings without even entering the office of a law firm.

Lead deputy public prosecutor V Sithambaram who represented the prosecution agreed with the panel’s observation, adding that any allowance of a postponement posed a risk of it becoming a common excuse to be used by others in different criminal cases.

“It would become a trend if this case is allowed postponement due to someone saying he got Covid-19.

“It would lead to others citing this as an excuse for adjournment,” Sithambaram contended.

The panel then denied the lawyer’s application to postpone the additional new evidence hearing and directed it to resume at 12.30pm via Zoom.

Karim also reminded the defence team that tomorrow’s decision date for Najib’s appeal in the SRC case has not been vacated and will proceed, pending the outcome of the adduce additional evidence bid.

Tomorrow (Dec 8) has been set for a decision on Najib’s appeal to quash his conviction, RM210 million fine, and 12-year jail term for seven charges linked to the RM42 million SRC corruption case.yesterday.

The panel had been set to rule on Wednesday whether to uphold or overturn Najib’s conviction for multiple counts of money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power.

Previously, Najib had applied for the court to delay the date because he would be in quarantine after returning from Singapore on December 5. The court rejected his application.

Meanwhile, the prosecution also told reporters there was no response from the court to Shafee’s request and the hearing is to go ahead as scheduled this morning.

On July 28, 2020, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali sentenced Najib to 10 years in prison for each of the three criminal breach of trust (CBT) charges and three money laundering cases, as well as 12 years in prison and a fine of RM210 million for one charge of abuse of power.

All charges relate to Najib’s part in the misappropriation of RM42 million in SRC International funds during his time in office, with Nazlan ruling that the sentences run concurrently.

He later allowed Najib’s application to stay the execution of the decision pending the disposal of his appeal, with a bail of RM2 million in two sureties. mkini