Former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s RM2.28 billion 1MDB trial started this morning with some drama as his lead defence lawyer Shafee Abdullah engaged in a prolonged argument with Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.
Shafee had started the morning by requesting the judge to allow more lawyers into the courtroom but justice Sequerah maintained that he must comply with restrictions as a precaution against the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Shafee refused to budge and continued to press justice Sequerah to relax the rules.
The argument lasted for around 15 minutes and the judge eventually sarcastically suggested that the trial be conducted at the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market in Selayang, which has recorded 200 Covid-19 cases to date.
“Then it would be better if we conduct the hearing at the wholesale market in Selayang without restrictions on how many people you want to be in court,” he said.
The Kuala Lumpur wholesale market cluster is the second-largest locally transmitted cluster after the Sri Petaling tabligh gathering cluster which recorded 3,347 cases to date.
Justice Sequerah added that the standard operating procedure (SOP) against Covid-19 would be rendered moot if it is not adhered to.
Shafee suggested that the trial be postponed under the current circumstances.
Shafee said under the current circumstances, it made it difficult for him to function as Najib’s defence lawyer and may have to quit the role.
“I cannot function, I have not spoken to my client. I may need to discharge myself.
“I cannot function like this. I look like a fool when I try to check documents,” he said.
He later requested for a short break to discuss with Najib on how to proceed. The judge obliged, and the court was adjourned for a short break.
Under current guidelines, Shafee is only accompanied by two lawyers and each must sit at an individual table as part of social-distancing guidelines.
Previously, he was assisted by as many as 10 lawyers. However, the remaining lawyers are now not allowed into the courtroom, and Shafee must liaise with them outside.
The prosecution is also facing similar restrictions.
Earlier, lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram had requested justice Sequerah to allow deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib to sit beside him so that they can liaise better. Akram is presently seated as a separate table behind Gopal.
However, the request was turned down by the judge, maintaining that social distancing guidelines must be abided.
Sequerah refused to budge even after Gopal informed him of a message from the chief registrar that the judge can use his discretion in such matters.
“In that case, I’m refusing to exercise my discretion. I will stick with the direction now,” said the judge.
During the break, both Shafee and Sri Ram met the judge in chambers for around 10 minutes.
They later informed that the judge agreed that both Shafee and Sri Ram can now have one lawyer seated beside them to assist them.
The assisting lawyers were previously seated at a separate table behind Shafee and Sri Ram.
However, the number of lawyers allowed into the courtroom was unchanged.
Najib is facing 25 charges of money laundering and abuse of power over a sum of RM2.28 billion originating from 1MDB. – Malaysiakini