Appoint private counsel to handle Najib’s RM2.3 1MDB trial, lawyers urge AG

- Advertisement - [resads_adspot id="2"]

Lawyers have urged the attorney-general to appoint a private lawyer to work with deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) on Najib Razak’s ongoing 1MDB trial involving RM2.28 billion.

Outside expertise and experience is needed for the white-collar crime case due to its complicated nature, voluminous documentation and cross-border reach, they said.

The lawyers said this case has also attracted global attention as it involves a former prime minister and a colossal amount of public funds.

They were responding to Attorney-General Idrus Harun’s statement that Najib’s 1MDB-related trials and Rosmah Mansor’s corruption appeal will now be conducted by full-time DPPs.

Idrus, who also doubles up as a public prosecutor, said he has full confidence that his chambers’ prosecutors can take on the job themselves.

He made the remarks when asked if a private lawyer will be employed to replace former Federal Court judge and ad hoc prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram who died on Sunday.

Lawyer Rafique Rashid Ali said Najib’s 1MDB power abuse and money laundering case concerns an alleged crime against the state and the public.

“As public prosecutor, Idrus should be reminded that his client is the Malaysian society, and he must be accountable to them,” he said.

The former co-chairman of the Bar Council’s criminal law committee said those involved in the 1MDB scandal have been charged and found guilty in the US, but not in Malaysia.

He was referring to former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng, who was convicted of corruption charges by a US jury last April over his role in helping loot hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB.

Ng’s former boss, Tim Leissner, has also pleaded to wrongdoing in connection with the scandal. Both are awaiting sentencing.

Prosecutors there have said Goldman helped 1MDB raise US$6.5 billion through three bond sales, but that US$4.5 billion was diverted to government officials, bankers and their associates through bribes and kickbacks between 2009 and 2015.

“The world is watching how the prosecution is going to handle Najib’s case from here,” said Rafique.

He said if need be, the public prosecutor must be prepared to pay for a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer as the 1MDB case is about loss of public funds.

Lawyer Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar noted that Sri Ram had not charged the government any fee when then AG Tommy Thomas appointed him to prosecute 1MDB-linked cases as well as the corruption case brought against Rosmah in August 2018.

“Sri Ram’s legal fees for taking on briefs from corporate clients and individuals in civil cases were quite high. However, he did national service by not charging Malaysian taxpayers a single sen,” he said.

A media statement issued by Thomas on Aug 31, 2018, revealed that Sri Ram had waived his fees and was acting on a pro bono basis.

Syed Iskandar said the AG and public prosecutor should appoint an experienced lawyer who has an “agile mind and sharp tongue” to match Najib’s formidable defence team.

Lawyer Guok Ngek Seong said no lawyer will attempt to handle the 1MDB power abuse and money laundering case unless reasonably remunerated.

“It is a difficult and complicated case. A lawyer who joins the prosecution team to focus on the 1MDB case must be compensated for the loss of opportunities in rejecting other briefs in his private practice,” he said.

Sri Ram had been working with DPPs from the Attorney- General’s Chambers since 2018 to oversee investigation papers and lead the prosecution team in three cases.

Najib is standing trial for 25 counts of money laundering and abuse of power over the alleged misuse of 1MDB funds amounting to RM2.28 billion deposited into his AmBank accounts.

The case, which started in 2019, is still at the prosecution stage with 41 witnesses called so far. Another 10 witnesses, including one from Singapore, will testify before the prosecution closes its case.

Last year, Rosmah was found guilty on three counts of corruption in connection with a RM1.25 billion project to provide solar hybrid energy to 369 schools in rural Sarawak.

Sri Ram was also lead prosecutor in the 1MDB audit tampering case involving Najib and former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy. The court will rule next month if the duo should enter their defence or be acquitted. – FMT