A trial for the world to witness

By MARK RAO / Pic By HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN

Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak faces seven counts for power abuse, money laundering and criminal breach of trust (CBT) in what will become the first time a former prime minister (PM) of Malaysia is tried in history.

The changes are related to former 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd and the total RM42 million that had been siphoned from the company.

The former PM had claimed trials to all seven charges. The whole world is watching the recent development as Najib could face a maximum 20 years’ jail if he is convicted for the power abuse charges.

His trial — closely watched around the world and has garnered headlines in local and international media — came after the shocking Barisan Nasional defeat in the May general election. The new government had stepped up investigation into the 1MDB financial debacle, calling hundreds of people for questioning, involving various agencies and new set-up committees and seeking international cooperation.

Over US$4.5 billion (RM18.41 billion) had been alleged to be stolen and used to purchase everything from high-end properties in New York, to a RM1 billion super yacht. The trial is expected to unravel some of the questions related to the scandal-ridden state investment fund.

Ex-PM Faces 7 Counts for Alleged Embezzlement
On July 4 this year, Najib arrived at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Courts Complex and faced three CBT and one abuse of power charges on the RM42 million related to SRC International.

The CBT charges were later amended upon case management at the KL High Court on Aug 8 to remove the earlier attribution which cited Najib as acting as both a public officer and agent of the state. Najib is now attributed as acting as an agent alone.

Three additional money laundering charges were also levelled against the former PM for the money transfers of the sums in question to his personal bank accounts on Dec 26, 2014, and Feb 10, 2015, respectively.

Najib claimed trial to all seven charges and, if convicted, faces a maximum jail sentence of 20 years under each of the CBT and abuse of power charges.

The money laundering charges are under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 and carry maximum jail sentences of 15 years.

A Lengthy Trial Ahead
Najib’s July 4 case hearing was a historic moment for the country. It was the first time a person who served as the country’s PM faced criminal and corruption charges.

Najib supporters tried to create a stir at the court as they claimed the charges are politically motivated and that the Pekan MP is innocent.

Presiding High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali fixed the trial dates from Feb 12-28 and March 4-29 next year during the case management hearing last Friday.

These are booked dates and additional days may be required to bring the case to a close.

Given that the seven charges are to be tried jointly — coupled with at least 3,500 pages of documents, a potentially long list of witnesses and millions of ringgit involved — the trial of the former PM would likely drag on for months and maybe years, including appeals at the Court of Appeal and Federal Court before a final resolution.

Who Will Take to the Witness Stand?
A long list of witnesses are expected during the 43-day trial period which will bring together high-profile individuals, former executives and key personnel. It is not known if Najib will testify.

Former SRC International director Datuk Suboh Md Yassin turned himself in to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on June 10 this year. His testimony will be critical to the prosecution team. It is not known whether he will be called as a witness.

It was also reported that the antigraft agency is looking to bring in Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, who is believed to be residing in Indonesia. Both Suboh and Nik Faisal were top executives in the former 1MDB unit.

Questions have also been asked if fugitive Low Taek Jho would cut a deal and be a witness or provide information which could lead to other charges related to 1MDB.

His whereabouts are currently unknown and Malaysian authorities have suspended his passport, while a RM1 billion luxury yacht Equanimity had been seized by Malaysia.

Relevant members of the investigation team for the SRC International probe are also expected to make an appearance in court, including present MACC chief commissioner Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull.

The team that first lead the investigation into the former 1MDB unit back in 2015 could also testify, including Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed who were the attorney general (AG) and MACC chief respectively during that time.

It is not known whether close aides of the former PM would be called to testify. Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor and stepson Riza Aziz had previously been questioned by the MACC, but no charges were brought against them.

No Gag Order
Judge Mohd Nazlan’s dismissal of the gag order application was also a relief to local and international media. The court threw out the gag order, citing freedom of speech.

“In this case, a proper determination of whether there has been a real prejudice or would be a real prejudice to a fair trial in the administration of justice leads me to the conclusion that the application cannot succeed,” he said last Friday.

He said the existing law of contempt and defamation provide ready measures to deal with the risk of prejudice, while the court hearing is to be tried by a single judge and not a jury. Malaysia has not had a case tried by a jury since 1995.

High Court judge Datuk Mohd Sofian Abdul Razak — who first presided over the case when it was brought to the High Court on July 4 before his transfer to another court — had granted an interim gag order to limit reporting and publications to the facts of the case.

The interim order was in effect up to Friday last week before judge Mohd Nazlan dismissed the application.

Led by Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, the defence sought the preemptive order to restrain publications on the merits of the case throughout the entire court proceedings and argued that public opinion posed a risk to a fair trial due to the highly publicised nature of the case.

Muhammad Shafee said the defence is to file an appeal today (Monday, Aug 13) with regard to the decision to dismiss the gag order application. The court has also set Oct 4 this year for a further case management hearing.

As it stands, the prosecution will be led by AG Tommy Thomas, while the defence is to be headed by Muhammad Shafee.

It will be a long battle for Najib and the prosecution to seek justice. A fast and easy trial is not on the cards, but it will be a trial for the world to see.