The end of the ‘don’t know’ defence

pic by BERNAMA

TUESDAY was a cliffhanger for many Malaysians who have keenly followed the 1Malaysia Development Bhd trials and tribulations of Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak (picture), former prime minister of Malaysia.

Regardless of personal opinions on the quality of the prosecution’s meticulously-presented case, contrasted by the defence’s single-minded response that Najib never has a clue of anything, not even his signature, a verdict of guilty or innocent was a 50-50 proposition.

By noon, the judge had found Najib guilty on all seven charges, ordered him jailed for a total of 72 years and fined more than most of us can even dream to see in a lifetime.

Despite all the to-and-froing of the defence, Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali dismissed Najib’s defence, of believing that the money he received in his bank account was from a Saudi prince, as “preposterous and ridiculous”.

“It is very difficult not to characterise the entire narrative of the defence of the ‘Arab donation’ as a poorly orchestrated self-serving evidence,” he said.

In fact, the judge said Najib’s defence simply does not pass the threshold of basic logic and common sense, a sentiment I am sure many Malaysians have been harbouring since 2015 at least.

As I said, that guilty verdict restored faith in the judiciary, that the law is no “respector of persons” even if he has several million Twitter followers.

Despite the protestations and tearing up of several thousand people who broke Movement Control Order rules and gathered without social distancing outside the courthouse, many Malaysians elsewhere cheered the decision.

For people who have been mystified by the court’s sometimes friendly view of the defence’s habit of asking for adjournments, for reasons that include the defence lawyer having hurt himself while playing with his dog, during the long trial, there was a schadenfreude moment when the judge refused to tolerate any more delays and insisted sentencing to proceed.

The weight of the world must’ve been on Judge Mohd Nazlan’s shoulders as he presided the case.

Not only did he need to satisfy the demands of his office to uphold the law and make a judgement on a fellow human, but it was also easy to see that he would have been under tremendous pressure from many sides.

An oft-quoted speech by his predecessor the late Sultan Azlan Shah when sentencing Datuk Harun Idris for corruption in 1976.

Sultan Azlan told Harun that having to sentence a former chief minister of Selangor reaffirmed the vitality of the rule of law, but also that it showed a “frightening decay in the integrity of some of our leaders”.

“It is incomprehensible how a man in your position could not, in your own conscience, recognise corruption for what it is. In so doing, you have not only betrayed your party cause, for which you have spoken so eloquently, but also the oath of office which you have taken and subscribed before your sovereign ruler, and above all the law of which you are its servant.”

The repercussions of Najib’s guilty verdict will reverberate for some time, not least because Najib is unrepentant and still says he is innocent and will appeal.

Another consequence of his verdict is the vindication for many who see Najib as corrupt and inept to the point of being accused that they are obsessed with him.

The political implications are of course numerous, given the nonexistent majority of the present government and the horse-trading being conducted to ensure that it stays in power.

If Najib’s verdict is upheld, Perikatan Nasional will lose a vital MP since he will be disqualified.

Najib has court time in four other trials, as do many from his Umno party, including the current president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

In a statement yesterday, Zahid, who is facing 87 charges of corruption himself, seems to blame the government for the court’s decision, which seems suspiciously that he is suggesting the government has sway in the affairs of the High Court.

With all these forces at play, it is difficult to see how much of the euphoria for the rule of law remains just down the road, this we shall have to wait and see.

But one thing for sure, the High Court has set a precedent that the “I don’t know anything” defence is now less than worthless.

And with that, I would venture to say that all those newly minted political government-linked companies’ directors better be running their wards properly because denial is no longer a defence.

ZB Othman is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.