Malaysia's ex-PM Najib loses bid to nullify 1MDB trial; final appeal to proceed

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KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak on Tuesday (Aug 16) failed in his bid to nullify the 1Malaysia Development Berhad-linked graft trial that resulted in his conviction, with the country’s highest court pushing ahead with his final appeal hearing by also denying his request for an adjournment.

The 69-year-old’s final appeal hearing against conviction will proceed on Thursday, said the Federal Court. 

Should Najib fail in his appeal, he faces 12 years in jail and RM210 million (S$65 million) in fines.

Failing to overturn his conviction would also disqualify him as a candidate in Malaysia’s next general election, which must be held by September next year.

Najib had sought a retrial by introducing new evidence regarding an alleged conflict of interest involving High Court judge Nazlan Ghazali. Datuk Nazlan had convicted the former premier of misappropriating RM42 million from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB.

The defence sought to cast doubt on Justice Nazlan’s credibility, saying that the verdict was compromised by his prior employment at Maybank, one of Malaysia’s largest lenders.

The judge was Maybank's general counsel and company secretary during the time the bank advised 1MDB on the formation of SRC. Maybank had also given a loan to a state-owned development fund, from which money was eventually directed to SRC and Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Najib’s lawyers have said that the judge should have recused himself as he is “too close for comfort to be the judge trying the SRC case”. They claimed they had no prior knowledge of Justice Nazlan’s role in Maybank despite it being publicly available information.

Lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram had argued that the claims made by Najib’s lawyers were based on hearsay, and called Najib’s affidavits supporting the motion “irrelevant and scandalous”. 

On Tuesday, a five-member bench at the Federal Court led by Malaysia’s Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat unanimously threw out the motion to introduce new evidence.

Justice Tengku Maimum said that the application from Najib’s team did not meet the “high threshold” required to introduce new evidence at the final stage of the appeals process. 

This prompted Najib’s team to immediately seek to delay the final appeal hearing by at least three months, arguing that he had just changed counsel and his newly appointed lawyers needed more time to prepare.

In July, Najib hired new lawyers to replace his long-time counsel Shafee Abdullah, who had represented him at both the High Court and Court of Appeal. His new defence team consists of lawyers from a firm led by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, a former de-facto law minister.

Justice Tengku Maimun, in rejecting the adjournment request, said that while Najib had the right to change counsel, he was “not entitled” to make that choice at the expense of the “court, prosecution or the entire justice system”.

While Najib’s appeal is scheduled to run until Aug 26, the outcome is expected to be made known only at a later date, as the court usually sets another date to deliver a decision.

The ongoing SRC case is the first of five graft trials facing Najib, who was prime minister from 2008 to 2018. All the trials revolve around 1MDB, a state fund that Najib co-founded in 2009.

Rosmah Mansor, wife of Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak, arrives at the federal court in Putrajaya on Aug 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

The scandal over billions of dollars that were allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB contributed to his coalition Barisan National losing the 2018 General Election.

Altogether, Najib has been slapped with 42 criminal charges relating to 1MDB, involving RM9 billion in total.

Despite holding no top party or government posts since 2018, Najib remains a popular and influential politician, attracting large crowds during election rallies. He has been credited with spurring a revival of his party Umno in the years since its defeat in the 2018 election.

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