Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyer today asked that the former prime minister be allowed to skip court proceedings this Friday for matters related to his corruption trial over SRC International Sdn Bhd’s RM42 million funds, which is also the day before the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor.
Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked the High Court to allow his client to be excused this Friday afternoon from a hearing of his bid to get information on witnesses for the trial.
“He’s got a statutory function in Johor Bahru,” Shafee claimed when explaining why Najib wanted to be excused from attending the Friday hearing.
Shafee argued that Najib’s absence from court this Friday would be “completely legal” and that “his attendance would not be much of a consequence”, saying that there have been other applications for Najib’s criminal case in the Court of Appeal and Federal Court where his attendance as the accused was not required.
Lead prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram, however, questioned the nature of the “statutory” duty that Najib was alleged to have in Johor this Friday.
“The prosecution’s position has always been, in criminal matters, the accused has to be present, we don’t want the trial to be declared a nullity,” Sithambaram said.
Sithambaram noted that there was only one occasion where Najib’s attendance was dispensed with during trial due to his execution of parliamentary duties as MP of Pekan, Pahang, pointing out: “As far as I know, he is not an assemblyman in Johor.”
Shafee then pointed to Najib’s role as Pekan MP and said Najib’s presence was required in Johor for the Tanjung Piai by-election for purposes of coordinating campaign machinery as chairman of the Barisan Nasional coalition’s advisory board.
Shafee also argued that any prejudice that may arise because of Najib’s absence during this Friday’s court proceedings would be to Najib himself, but also highlighted that it would just be for hearing of a related application and not the actual trial where evidence is produced.
Just as in typical criminal trials, Najib has been required to physically be present during trial to safeguard his right to fair trial as an accused.
After hearing both sides, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali then decided to allow Najib to be “exempted” from the court hearing this Friday. – MMO