Guilty or innocent? Najib’s SRC trial verdict today

by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE High Court will deliver its verdict on Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak’s (picture) graft case involving SRC International Sdn Bhd today after nearly two months of deliberation.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali is expected to announce at 10am whether Najib is guilty or innocent of seven charges involving the misappropriation of RM42 million from SRC International in a trial that has taken a year.

Whatever the verdict, the court’s decision will be closely watched due to the unique nature of the case and whether it will set the tone for four other trials relating to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) that Najib is facing from the dock.

Beyond the court, Malaysia has agreed to a US$3.9 billion (RM16.7 billion) settlement with Goldman Sachs Group Inc for its involvement in all the criminal and regulatory proceedings in Malaysia linked to 1MDB.

The verdict that Judge Mohd Nazlan delivers today will also have political implications with the present administration under Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin seen as having a razor-thin margin in Parliament.

A guilty verdict may disqualify Najib as Pekan MP, thinning the supporters of the current Perikatan Nasional (PN) government. Guilty or not, any verdict this morning will have an impact on Muhyiddin’s administration.

“It will be an important test for the independence of the judiciary. If Najib is found guilty, it will improve Muhyiddin’s government internationally, which is seen as having usurped legitimate power from the Pakatan Harapan government.

“If the verdict is kind towards Najib, for example exonerating him, there will always be suspicion locally and internationally on a possible interference by the executive in the judiciary. That is the dilemma,” political analyst Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid told The Malaysian Reserve.

Ahmad Fauzi said the PN government might lose the support of Umno members who might still be loyal to Najib if the former PM is indicted.

“Even one support is crucial for the government with a razor-thin margin to survive in Parliament. Umno members may, at least, abstain from voting as a show of protest to Muhyiddin.”

If Najib is found guilty, Ahmad Fauzi said the Pekan MP may appeal the court decision. If that fails, he said Najib will have to give up his parliamentary seat.

An elected person convicted and sentenced to a jail term of more than a year or a fine of more than RM2,000 and has not received a royal pardon would be disqualified from holding any legislative position in Parliament or the state assembly, according to the Article 48 of the Federal Constitution.

Newly-elected Chini assemblyman Mohd Sharim Md Zain, whose seat is one of the four state seats in Najib’s Pekan parliamentary constituency, said four busloads of supporters will be arriving at the court today in solidarity with Najib, according to media reports.

After 96 days of hearing in 14 months, closing submissions were completed in early June with both the defence and prosecution having put in extensive submissions of over 2,000 pages.

Former Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Tommy Thomas brought the case to the court in July 2018, two months after the fall of Najib’s then-ruling coalition party Barisan Nasional in the 14th General Election. 1MDB had been the major cause of BN’s downfall. History was made when the country’s former PM was dragged to a criminal court for corruption allegations.

“If this is the price I have to pay for 42 years of service to the people and country, I accept,” Najib said on the day he was charged.

Najib said the trial would be an opportunity for him to clear his name. For that, he hired top lawyer Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah to represent him.

However, even a legal eagle found it challenging to defend a former PM in the graft case.

“By virtue of the positions Najib were in, there are a lot of prejudices that could be drawn against him.

“Among the questions posed is that as a man of knowledge and finance, how could he not be aware of the full circumstances of money coming into his accounts,” Muhammad Shafee said.

Equally challenging was for the prosecution to prove that Najib had committed the crime. It seemed quite daunting at times to cross-examine an ex-PM, admitted deputy public prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram who has 42 years of experience.

The prosecution presented evidence that Najib knew of the RM42 million movements in his accounts, but the defence claimed that he was a victim of a scam devised by people around him.

Sithambaram said fugitive Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, Najib’s former private secretary Datuk Azlin Alias and former SRC International MD Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil had acted under directives from the accused on the money transfers — and not that he was duped by the group.

He said Najib had devised a scheme to facilitate the money transfers from SRC International into his accounts through subsidiaries Gandingan Mentari Sdn Bhd and Ihsan Perdana Sdn Bhd.

These units, purportedly SRC International’s corporate social responsibility partners, were allegedly the vehicles used to channel the funds.

In the witness dock, Najib claimed ignorance and defended that he is not liable for the mess of SRC International and mismanagement of the RM4 billion loans provided by Retirement Fund Inc (KWAP).

Najib was SRC International advisor emeritus and finance minister at the time.

The defence also pointed fingers at “a bunch of rogue bankers” who handled Najib’s accounts. They also maintained that Najib genuinely believed that the money he spent was from Arab donations.

Since the trial began on April 3 last year, the KL High Court heard from 57 prosecution witnesses followed by 19 witnesses during the defence stage, which ran for 33 days from Dec 3.

Former Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah, former KWAP CEO Datuk Azian Mohd Noh, former AG Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali and former Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad were among top government officials who took the witness stand.

SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, was incorporated on Jan 7, 2011, as an initiative to support the country’s agenda to ensure energy security and reduce reliance on coal, and oil and gas.

Najib is also dealing with 1MDB trial involving RM2.3 billion; 1MDB final audit report tampering trial for which he is jointly charged with former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy; a trial relating to misappropriating government funds totalling RM6.6 billion along with former Treasury secretary general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah; and another trial that involved RM27 million of SRC International funds.