PUTRAJAYA: Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on Friday (Aug 19) discharged part of his legal team during his final SRC International appeal hearing at the Federal Court.
His lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik informed the court of Najib’s decision to discharge the legal firm Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners.
Mr Teh remains as Najib’s lead counsel.
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat then called for proceedings to continue, with ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram continuing with his oral submissions.
On Thursday, the court denied Mr Teh’s request to discharge himself from representing the former prime minister in his final appeal.
Former Malaysian de factor law minister Zaid Ibrahim, who was part of Najib’s legal team, did not appear in court on Friday.
The charges against Najib, who served as prime minister from 2009 to 2018, involved the transfer of RM42 million (US$9.4 million) from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB into his personal bank accounts in 2014 and 2015.
He was found guilty on three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of abuse of power by the High Court in July 2020, and was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million.
The conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8, 2021. Najib later filed a petition of appeal to the Federal Court on Apr 25 this year.
The Federal Court had initially set aside nine days - Aug 15 to Aug 19 and Aug 23 to Aug 26 - for his appeal. This is Najib’s final bid to overturn the guilty conviction.
The hearing proper only started on Thursday, with Mr Teh being denied of his request to discharge himself from representing Najib.
In delivering the judges’ decision, the chief justice said the court had discretionary authority to allow or deny the discharge application to safeguard and protect the rights of an accused.
On Monday, Najib sought to adduce new evidence in his appeal, but the five-man bench unanimously rejected the application on Tuesday.
Later on Tuesday, the Federal Court also dismissed a request by Najib to adjourn the final appeal hearing.
Mr Teh - who was appointed to replace the legal team that Najib discharged at the end of July - had requested for the case to be deferred for three to four months as the defence needed sufficient time to deal with the case.
The chief justice ruled on Tuesday that parties are well aware of the hearing dates and should have taken every effort to be ready.
Najib issued a statement on Thursday saying that his "rights, life, liberty and right to a fair hearing" was at stake.
Najib said the fact that Mr Teh stated multiple times that he was not prepared for the appeal meant that he was necessarily left with no effective counsel or proper presentation before the court.
He said that he had brought in a new team for a fresh perspective on the case but that the team would need time.
“I am not ashamed to say, I was desperate, as would any litigant in my predicament.
“I am now in a situation where my right to counsel and a fair hearing is illusory because I made a decision that I thought was in my best interests at the time,” he added.
NAJIB’S LAWYER WILL NOT MAKE SUBMISSIONS
The prosecution wrapped up their submissions on Friday, with the prosecutor telling the court that the combined roles played by Najib enabled him to execute his plan of benefitting from SRC International funds.
He said that Najib placed himself in a position where SRC International’s board of directors acted on his instructions rather than as independent directors.
“The SRC board of directors was rendered toothless and powerless by the most powerful man in the country,” he said.
He also said that Najib was aware of the RM42 million that was transferred to his account, pointing to an affidavit filed by Najib in a lawsuit against former Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) president Ling Liong Sik.
After Mr Sithambaram’s submissions, Mr Teh requested for the court to adjourn the hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday next week as he has another case to attend to.
However, it was rejected by Chief Justice Tengku Maimum.
"As stated many times, no adjournment of this appeal. We will proceed as scheduled," she ruled.
Mr Teh also said he would not make any submissions – written or oral.
When the chief justice told him he has three days to prepare for at least oral submissions, Mr Teh insisted again that he would not be doing so.
“It’s all right. It’s your liberty but you are the counsel on record. We will continue on the 23rd,” she said.
The court is adjourned until next Tuesday.