KUALA LUMPUR • The spotlight on the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) saga is set to fall next on the battle of the legal eagles.
Top-notch lawyers are being recruited by the parties involved as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad pushes the issue further by telling the New York Times in an interview last Thursday that "enough evidence" has been gathered to charge former premier Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.
The government recently named Mr Tommy Thomas as the Attorney-General, who was given the job with the 1MDB case in mind.
With over 40 years' experience as a corporate and commercial lawyer, as well as being involved in landmark cases on corporate debts and asset recovery - such as acting for the Securities Commission against Swisscash, a worldwide Ponzi scheme that was hatched in Malaysia - Mr Thomas is seen by many as the right man for the job.
Also on the prosecution team is former attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail, who co-heads the special task force investigating 1MDB.
It is believed Tan Sri Abdul Gani was removed from his post in 2015 as he was preparing to charge Datuk Seri Najib.
Mr Abdul Gani has handled several high-profile prosecution cases, including graft charges against former Sabah chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan in 1993. He also led the prosecution team in the corruption and attempted sodomy case against former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
He was also involved in the prosecution of the Al-Ma'unah cult which attempted a revolt against the government in 1998. He also led a panel in the case involving 30 individuals facing charges of waging war against the Malaysian King and various terrorism activities in Lahad Datu, Sabah, in February 2013.
As for Mr Najib, several lawyers have come and gone in the past few weeks, but the former premier has assembled a formidable US-based legal team - led by Mr John Ashcroft, who was US attorney-general in the George W. Bush administration from 2001 to 2005.
Ashcroft Law Firm has registered Mr Najib as a client on the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara) register. (Fara requires agents representing the interests of foreign powers to disclose their ties with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances.)
In a search, Mr Najib's name appeared on the Fara register as a "foreign principal", with Ashcroft Law Firm named as the "registrant" in two exhibits dated March 28 and 29 this year.
The document also disclosed the services provided by Ashcroft Law Firm were financed by a "foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal".
Mr Ashcroft is known for handling high-profile international cases involving global players, including representing the Qatar government to rebut accusations from US President Donald Trump and its Arab neighbours that it supports terrorism, as reported by Reuters.
According to Reuters' sources, another US lawyer in the Najib team is star litigator David Boies, who specialises in anti-trust cases, including acting for the US government against IT giant Microsoft, and it aided fallen financiers including AIG's Hank Greenberg and Enron's Andy Fastow.
At one point, Mr Boies also represented Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein against sexual abuse allegations last year.
The same sources claimed that another top American lawyer, Mr Matthew Schwartz, is also part of Mr Najib's legal team.
Mr Schwartz, an experienced prosecutor in New York, has handled several high-profile cases including the investigation into Ponzi king Bernie Madoff.
Mr Schwartz, who is in private practice now, was named prosecutor of the year by the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation in 2013.
Mr Najib's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah, has opted for local counsel - Datuk K. Kumaraendran and Datuk Geethan Ram Vincent.
They accompanied her when she was questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) earlier this month.
Mr Kumaraendran is experienced in cases involving cheating and bribery, including representing a "Tan Sri" in connection with an alleged RM2 million (S$680,000) bribe offer to the Sultan of Johor, as well as a senior lawyer who was charged with cheating and embezzling his client's money over a RM9.05 million land deal.
Mr Geethan is known for representing former Kuala Lumpur Criminal Investigation Department chief Ku Chin Wah, who was charged and later acquitted over allegedly failing to declare all his sources of income five years ago.
As for Mr Low Taek Jho - the central figure wanted over the 1MDB investigations - he has surrounded himself with lawyers although his legal team has not been made known yet. However, he has engaged US and English lawyer Robin Rathmell as a spokesman.
Mr Rathmell, who recently e-mailed MACC seeking a meeting in Dubai, is attached to the New York-based firm Kobre & Kim that specialises in cross-border investigations and disputes. He regularly represents institutions and high-net-worth individuals in international litigation relating to assets involving allegations of fraud, money laundering or misconduct.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK