Apologise or be sued, Zaid, partners tell Bar president

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Veteran lawyer Zaid Ibrahim and his two partners are demanding a full and unequivocal retraction and apology from Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah.

Through a letter of demand issued on Aug 26, this was being sought over the Bar’s media statement regarding their alleged conduct during the Federal Court hearing of former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s RM42 million SRC International corruption case appeal.

Zaid as well as lawyers Liew Teck Huat and Rueben Mathiavaranam claimed that the press release was a “grave and serious libel”, and that they would commence legal action against Cheah if there is no retraction and apology by Sept 2.

They claimed the Aug 19 media statement “falsely and maliciously” contained statements regarding their conduct during the Federal Court hearing.

The lawyers stated that the press release contained several paragraphs that showed a “reckless disregard as to whether the imputations complained of (were) true”.

They alleged the paragraphs suggested the lawyers had “deliberately acted unprofessionally”, “with an improper agenda to abuse the process of the court”, that they resorted to “unscrupulous strategies”, and that their “conduct was designed to pervert the course of justice” and “bring the legal profession into disrepute”.

The trio claimed that her statements suggested they were “unprofessional, incompetent and ignorant of the professional rules of practice and etiquette”, had “no compunction in abusing the process of the court”, had acted “in flagrant contempt of court” and were “not fit to practice as advocates and solicitors”.

They described the statements as “false and scurrilous”, adding that “by publishing and disseminating the press statement and causing the impugned statements to be published (by) online news portals, (Cheah) intended to and did ensure that it received the most extensive coverage possible…across the entire Malaysian public”.

Yusof Mat Isa

“You further knew…that (Najib’s appeal) had attracted wide international media coverage and (that your) imputations (would be) disseminated to the international community as well,” the lawyers contended.

The legal letter also seeks for the Malaysian Bar president to give an undertaking not to repeat the statements concerning the lawyers as well as for compensation involving reasonable costs and expenses.

On Aug 19, the Bar released a media statement condemning the conduct of Najib’s legal team during the apex court appeal hearing.

Cheah had described the lawyers’ conduct as amounting to an abuse of the country’s judicial process and had brought the system into disrepute, and the lawyers involved should face disciplinary action.

Izzrafiq Alias/The Star

She said while Najib is entitled to discharge his lawyers and appoint new ones, doing so also means taking the risk that the court may not allow a postponement while the new legal team takes over since such postponements are not an automatic entitlement.

Cheah added that regarding Najib’s lawyers, the rules of legal practice stipulate that lawyers shall not accept any case unless they are reasonably certain of being able to appear and represent the client on the hearing dates fixed by the court.

She said the lawyers must also make every effort to be ready for trial on those dates, per Rules 6(a) and 24(a) of the Legal Profession Act (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978.

On July 25, Najib discharged Messrs Shafee & Co and took on Messrs Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners to represent him in his final appeal at the apex court.

In the run-up to and during the appeal, Najib’s counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik made numerous requests to postpone the trial but was rejected by the apex court.

Najib then discharged his newly appointed law firm as solicitors as well as Zaid, Liew and Rueben as co-counsel on August 18.

A similar request to discharge Hisyam Teh as lead counsel was rejected by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.

Last week, the Federal Court unanimously upheld Najib’s guilty verdict, ordering him to begin his 12-year prison sentence immediately.

Najib will also have to pay a RM210 million fine, in default of which he will have to serve another five years in prison.