Top Criminal Lawyer Sithambaram Joins Team to Prosecute Najib

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Top criminal lawyer V Sithambaram will be added to the government’s team for next week’s money laundering case against Najib Razak, the former prime minister’s first trial since his fall from grace.

Sithambaram and Sulaiman Abdullah will lead the team from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in the SRC International Sdn Bhd trial, sources told The Malaysian Insight.

The case involves the alleged pilfering of RM89 million from the account of the former 1Malaysia Development Bhd subsidiary.

More than 50 witnesses will help the prosecution connect the dots and show how funds from SRC International were transferred into Najib’s private account.

The prosecution’s addition of legal muscle reflects the high expectations of a slam-dunk conviction, which have risen in tandem with the wall-to-wall carpet coverage of the 1MDB scandal and Najib’s role as the alleged mastermind along with Penang-born billionaire Low Taek Jho.

In the minds of Malaysians, there will be closure to the scandal of all scandals when its perpetrators are thrown behind bars.

The administration of Dr Mahathir Mohamad is also aware of the increasing clamour among Malaysians for the former prime minister to be jailed ever since he decided to make his case before the court of public opinion.

These voices have grown louder since the Cameron Highlands by-election, where Najib spent considerable time campaigning.

The SRC International trial will start on February 12 and will run over 43 days.

Over the years, Sithambaram has burnished his credentials by acting as defence lawyer in many high-profile cases. He defended Dr Mahathir when the latter was sued in 2007 by Anwar Ibrahim for allegedly making defamatory statements against the then opposition leader.

Sithambaram also acted for Abdul Rahim Noor when the former inspector-general of police was charged with assaulting Anwar. More recently, the former chairman of the Bar Council’s criminal law committee defended businesswoman Phang Li Koon in the corruption case against her and former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng.

Legal experts said the move by the AGC to appoint someone who has made his reputation defending criminals instead of prosecuting them makes sense.

Given his experience in the criminal bar, they expect Sithambaram to be able to read and counter moves by Najib’s lead lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

Najib is facing 10 charges linked to SRC International, involving RM89 million.

He was hit with seven charges in July and August last year over RM42 million, and last week, he was slapped with an additional three charges.

The 10 charges are apart from 32 others linked to the scandal-ridden 1MDB, involving a sum of RM2.3 billion.

Last September, Najib was slapped with 25 charges related to the state investor. Four were over abuse of power, and 21 under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

A month later, Najib, together with former Treasury secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, were jointly charged with criminal breach of trust, involving RM6.6 billion in government funds.

Last December, the former prime minister was charged with abusing his power by instructing that amendments be made to 1MDB’s final audit report.

Last August, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas announced the appointment of retired Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram as lead prosecutor in the 1MDB and related cases against Najib.

Najib last month filed for leave to initiate a judicial review to challenge the appointment of Sri Ram as lead prosecutor in his corruption and money-laundering cases. The Kuala Lumpur High Court will hear Najib’s bid to remove Sri Ram on Friday. – TMI