Decision on Najib’s application to recuse Sri Ram set on Feb 15

Judge will need 3 weeks to decide after hearing submissions from both the prosecutor and defence on Wednesday

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by BERNAMA

THE High Court has fixed Feb 15 to deliver a decision on former Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak’s application to recuse leading prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram (picture) from the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) audit report tampering trial.

Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said he would need three weeks to decide after hearing submissions from both the prosecutor and defence for the case on Wednesday.

Earlier, lead defence counsel Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said Sri Ram could be biased in conducting the trial, particularly regarding a Whatsapp conversation between the latter and former Attorney General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali in 2018.

In the conversation, Sri Ram persuaded Mohamed Apandi to charge Najib.

The defence applied to recuse Sri Ram on June 12 last year with support from two affidavits, of which one was filed by Najib and the other by Mohamed Apandi.

“Whether Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram was biased or not, that is a different thing altogether. But isn’t one entitled to have a perception?

“But later when he is given the document and evidence, he could then form his own view, whether agreeing with his earlier perception or disagreeing with it. Aren’t we entitled to do that?” Mohamed Zaini said in the hearing on Wednesday.

Deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib said the point of bias raised in the application had also been adjudicated, thus making it res judicata (a matter decided).

He said the WhatsApp conversation between Sri Ram and Mohamed Apandi was just a conversation between two friends.

He further said the applicant had also submitted that Sri Ram was involved in the 1MDB-related investigations which caused him to pre-judge the culpability of the applicant.

“His power to supervise investigations conducted by the investigating officer in his capacity as a senior deputy public prosecutor cannot be misconstrued as having taken over the investigation itself.

“The applicant has failed to show any evidence that Sri Ram was indeed involved in the investigations against him. As such, the allegation that Sri Ram had taken over the investigations is without basis,” Ahmad Akram said.

He said the applicant failed to show that Sri Ram had committed prosecutorial misconduct to get him removed from the case.

Muhammad Shafee said the disqualification bid did not seek to nullify the whole (1MDB audit) trial that has proceeded so far, but to have the proceedings being conducted without bias.

“The disqualification we seek here is not punishment of anybody or Sri Ram, but to meet substantive fear of bias, on the matter of predetermination of Najib’s guilt by Sri Ram.

“It is protection for parties and the public, as well as for the wider interest of justice,” Muhammad Shafee said.

This is Najib’s third attempt to recuse Sri Ram from prosecuting in the 1MDB-linked criminal cases after meeting with two failures.

The first application was for another 1MDB case before a different judge and the other was through a civil proceeding.

Najib’s 1MDB audit report tampering trial will continue on Feb 22 after it was postponed due to the Movement Control Order.

The 1MDB trial involving RM2.3 billion linked to the state wealth fund will resume first on Feb 8.

In the 1MDB audit report tampering trial, Najib is charged with abusing his power as a public officer in his capacity as PM and finance minister in altering the 1MDB audit report.

Former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy is accused of abetting Najib in tampering with the company’s audit report, which was then tabled to the Public Accounts Committee for investigation.