Trial of Malaysia's ex-PM Najib over 1MDB funds resumes after nearly four months

Najib Razak faces 25 charges for abuse of power and money laundering.
Najib Razak faces 25 charges for abuse of power and money laundering.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The 1MDB trial of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak resumed on Tuesday (Jan 5) after being postponed for nearly four months, with the prosecution raising a flag over a social media "attack" by Najib on a former Bank Negara governor.

Lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram raised the issue at the High Court, saying the defendant must be given a stern warning by the court as former governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz is to appear as a witness in the trial.

Najib, 67, faces 25 charges for abuse of power and money laundering over alleged funds of 1Malaysia Development Berhad totalling RM2.28 billion (S$750 million) that was deposited into his AmBank accounts between Feb 2011 and Dec 2014.

In his Facebook post on Dec 29, Najib asked Tan Sri Zeti to respond to allegations that her family received more than RM100 million said to be from 1MDB funds, from fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho.

Ms Zeti responded in a statement on Dec 31: "I wish to reiterate that my family and I have never received any sums of money from 1MDB. The allegations against me and my family are completely false and malicious."

In court on Tuesday, Mr Sri Ram told presiding judge Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah that Najib deliberately attacked the former governor. Mr Sri Ram pointed out that the accused knew Ms Zeti would be called to testify as a witness list was made available to the defence last year.

"I don't want to move an application to take his bail or contempt, but I will be grateful if the court would impose a strict warning against the accused to not do this again.

"A trial has to take place in a court of law, not in the public domain, and certainly not on social media. We want assurance that our witness will not be attacked," Mr Sri Ram said.

Responding, Najib's lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said disallowing Najib to share his thoughts on social media was akin to "a boxer being sent to the ring with both hands tied, can take punches but not be able to reply back".

Tan Sri Shafee said the defence had tried to apply for a gag order to stop the media and any person from discussing the merits of the SRC International trial, but this was dismissed.

"But everyone else can say anything about him (Najib). They call him a crook, a perompak (thief), and no action was taken, " Mr Shafee added.

The lawyer then told the court that the defence would do a submission on the matter on Thursday (Jan 7) and asked the court to reserve the matter for later.

Justice Sequerah agreed to reserve the matter.

The 1MDB trial was postponed several times owing to movement curbs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The trial is separate from the one over SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

Najib was in July last year (2020) found guilty on seven counts of corruption in the case involving RM42 million that was deposited into his personal bank accounts, with the funds belonging to SRC International. He was sentenced to 12 years' jail and given a fine of RM210 million. He is appealing against the verdict.

Earlier on Tuesday at the High Court, Najib's lawyer, Mr Shafee, asked the court to excuse the defendant from attending the trial on Wednesday (Jan 6) to allow the MP for Pekan in Pahang state to visit his constituency, which is severely affected by the flood.

But the judge did not allow the application.