Putrajaya—The trial involving Najib Razak, the former Malaysian Prime Minister, who filed an appeal against criminal charges related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) has faced another postponement, this time due to a mishap with his dog.
On Tuesday, March 12, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, the lead counsel for Mr Najib, appeared before a panel of three judges (Datuk Zabariah Mohd Yusof, Datuk Lau Bee Lan and Datuk Rhodzariah Bujang) at the Court of Appeal and said that he was unable to continue with his submission due to a recent fracture to his left wrist.
The Malay Mail reports the lead counsel as saying, “My pet dog jumped on me and I fell. I am now in pain and I need to seek immediate medical attention later through an X-ray scan.” It was the first broken bone the lawyer had suffered from, he added.
Mr Muhammad Shafee’s statement was immediately objected to by Tommy Thomas, Malaysia’s Attorney-General. Mr Thomas said, “Everyone wants the trial to start as early as tomorrow. There is an enormous pressure on the prosecution team.”
He added, “In fact, there is a global pressure on us for the trial to start. I understand the counsel has a problem but on the other hand, we are under scrutiny as to why the trial hasn’t begun.”
The lead counsel for Mr Najib had proposed holding the hearing on Friday since Mr Thomas had said he is unavailable on Thursday. Judge Zabariah Mohd Yusof, who heads the panel of judges from the Court of Appeals, assented to Mr Muhammad Shafee’s suggestion.
For the 1MDB scandal, in particular, the former Prime Minister faces seven charges connected to allegations that he stole 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) from one of the former units of the fund, SRC International.
The trial, which had been scheduled to run from February 12 through March 29, had been postponed because of four appeals that the defence had filed.
The court heard submissions on the application from Mr Najib for a gag order prohibiting “the media from discussing the merits of his criminal cases; his application for the recovery of documents and statements; the withdrawal of certificate of transfer and his challenge to the appointment of lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah as the lead prosecutor in the seven charges pertaining to SRC International.”
Many of Mr Najib’s countrymen see the trial as an important test of how serious the Mahathir administration is in defeating corruption.
The Department of Justice of the United States called the 1MDB scandal “kleptocracy at its worst,” since the state fund had allegedly lost S$ 4.5 billion, said to have been siphoned by Najib and other officials during his term. Ironically, the fund had been established to generate more economic opportunities for the country.
The former Prime Minister is facing 42 counts related to the scandal. Among them are charges that he siphoned almost one billion SGD into his private accounts, as well as money laundering.
He has denied all the charges.
Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been in the public eye since he was arrested in July 2018, with S$363 billion worth of goods confiscated from them by the authorities. Rosmah herself is facing 20 corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering charges, but, like her husband, has denied all allegations against her.
Many Malaysians have watched, fascinated and appalled, as her designer purses, jewelry and watches have been paraded in the news.
Citizens are watching out for the trial with bated breath since this is the first time a national leader is defending himself against criminal charges. At the same time, all eyes are on the current Prime Minister, Dt Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who has vowed to go after corruption and to punish the guilty in the 1MDB scandal.
While enjoying popular support, the country’s slowdown of economic growth has caused discontent in some sectors. This could be detrimental to the coalition Mahathir formed to remove Najib from power.