Najib’s poorly staged circus backfires, making the job easier for five judges to uphold guilty verdict

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Hisyam’s refusal to present his final argument to defend Najib was taken as the defence’s failure to raise reasonable doubt.

You know Najib Razak was in deep shit when a five-member bench of Federal Court led by Tengku Maimun – Malaysia’s first woman Chief Justice – strictly prohibited any attempts to delay the appeal process last week. And you know absolutely sure the former premier was in serious trouble when his legal eagle started throwing tantrums – threatening not to make any submissions.

When Najib instigated his gullible supporters into making death threat on the chief justice, you know he was in a deplorable state. And when he orchestrated some top party leaders to forcefully meet Prime Minister Ismail Sabri at his residence in late evening – less than 12 hours before the Judgement Day – to interfere in the judiciary, you know Najib was extremely panicked and couldn’t think straight.

You know all was lost when the badass chief justice continued rejecting more delay tactics thrown at her by Najib’s lawyers – from application to eject Tengku Maimun from the appeal panel to more postponement. And you know the defence team was in total chaos when even a junior lawyer tried to argue in the Federal Court based on ad-hoc instructions from Najib.

It was game over when Rosmah Mansor walked into the courtroom, effectively jinxed her husband, former most powerful man Najib. At about 4:06pm (Aug 23, 2022), Najib gambled his remaining two days of freedom by choosing not to make any submission. It would take just 20 minutes (4:26pm) later for the five judges to unanimously uphold his conviction and send Najib to prison.

At about 6:10pm, Najib made history – becoming the first former prime minister to enter the gates of the Kajang Prison to serve his 12-year prison sentence, leaving behind more than two dozen reporters scrambling to take the once-in-a-lifetime photos of him. He was also fined RM210 million earlier by the High Court, and will serve an additional five years if he fails to pay (it would be interesting to see if his Facebook still gets updated).

At least he gets to enjoy an unforgettable ride in a black SUV, escorted by a motorcade of police vehicles all the way to the prison. His disgraceful political stunt of taking yet another Islamic oath swearing his innocence at Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru over the weekend did not seem the work. Even the God thinks the unremorseful crook should go on a vacation in prison.

Whatever strategy deployed by Najib in his final appeal, it had been very poorly hatched. The pre-planned drama of extorting a four-month postponement, with his newly-appointed lawyers threatening to withdraw from representing Najib and leaving him “defenceless” should the Federal Court refuse to grant their wish, was part of the ultimate plan to set the stage to seek a royal pardon.

He might think it was worthwhile to sacrifice two days of freedom (he had from Aug 23-26 to convince the judges) by not making any submission in order to create an illusion that he was unfairly sentenced by the Federal Court. Not that it would make any difference, but if he did not even want to try to argue his case, the panel of judges can’t help him even if they wanted to.

His crooked wife Rosmah is ready to run to the Palace, crying to the Queen how the former PM had been bullied and mistreated by Chief Justice Maimun. However, with three courts and nine judges (High Court – one, Court of Appeal – three, Federal Court – five) all delivering unanimous guilty verdicts, how sure was Najib that he would get a royal pardon the same way opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim received his?

Yes, narcissist Najib was over-confident that based on his family’s special relationship with King Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, a royal pardon is like a walk in the park. If that is true, he didn’t need to put up all those circus shows in the courtroom, not to mention the panic rush to meet the prime minister, threatening him to interfere. But that is another topic for another article.

Not only was defence lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik’s refusal to make any submissions for his client was a tactical mistake, as it would be seen as disrespectful to the Court Institution, the open challenge was essentially a declaration of war against the Chief Justice and her fellow judges. Just because the court has rejected the request for postponement does not mean all the five judges were anti-Najib.

The defence’s mission was to win sympathy from at least one of the five judges to create a non-unanimous judgement. It would go a long way to help Najib’s next move if he could show that not all the Federal Court judges agree that he was guilty. But the worst part was not Najib’s efforts to intimidate and bully the Chief Justice by refusing to make submissions.

The worst and dumbest part was when his former lead counsel Shafee Abdullah suddenly appeared, after Najib had told the court that he had fired him last month. It confirmed the court’s suspicion that the dismissal of Shafee and the appointment of Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners, who in turn appointed Hisyam Teh Poh Teik as lead counsel, had been a delay tactic all along.

It lends credence to Tengku Maimun’s decision to throw away the defence lawyer’s request for postponement last week. It was like how a student plays truant over a fake claim that he was down with fever, only to appear in school smoking with his classmates. The Chief Justice called Najib’s bluff and rejected Shafee’s request for an adjournment.

Tengku Maimun was basically eating Najib’s defence team for lunch in the game of brinkmanship. The defence lawyers were shooting blanks when they made dubious claims that High Court Judge Nazlan was tainted with a serious conflict of interest when presiding over the SRC International trial, followed by personal attacks on the Chief Justice’s husband.

Last week, Chief Justice Maimun said Najib had failed to show the relevance of the dubious new evidence against his corruption charges. She said – “It is not as if Justice Nazlan’s previous role (as Maybank general counsel) was a secret that his subsequent involvement came as a surprise”. It was a slap in the face of both Najib and the entire defence team.

Nazlan’s previous employment with Maybank was public knowledge. In fact, his role was well documented in the annual reports of the country’s largest banking group. Even if he was involved in the decision-making which led to the formation of SRC, the decision was not his alone. He was not the CEO or CFO, let alone the biggest shareholder of Maybank who approved the loan to 1MDB.

Even if Nazlan had the power to approve the RM4.17 billion loan to 1MDB, which he did not, he would end up as Najib’s partner-in-crime. So, how could he be bias and sentence Najib to 12 years in prison? Besides, based on how Najib’s legal eagles repeatedly and meticulously scrutinized the appointment of Gopal Sri Ram as lead prosecutor, it’s hard to believe the defence team hadn’t a clue about Nazlan’s roles in Maybank.

Desperate, pro-Najib bloggers, propagandists and cyber troopers have been spreading rumours that Chief Justice Maimun was bias because her husband (Zamani Ibrahim) has expressed his views in a Facebook posting dated May 11, 2018 that mocked the defeat of the Barisan Nasional coalition under Najib’s leadership in the May 9, 2018 General Election.

Zamani also expressed his hatred against the unpopular 6% GST (goods and services tax) implemented during Najib administration, as well as his disgust over the 1MDB scandal and the rushed Anti Fake News Bill (which was introduced to suppress and oppress opposition). While he celebrated the defeat of Najib, he also expressed his sadness for the demise of UMNO.

But Tengku Maimun has no control over her husband’s freedom of opinion. To say the Chief Justice was bias because her husband was critical of Najib is like saying Najib’s family – Rosmah, Mohd Nizar, Nooryana Najwa and Norashman – are also crooks because the former prime minister is the world’s biggest crook. The biggest problem with Najib’s claim is the date when Zamani published his opinion.

The date of the Facebook posting was two days immediately after the 2018 national election. Over 5.5 million voters who had voted against Najib corrupted government too had expressed similar sentiments. Everyone was celebrating. More importantly, on May 11, 2018, Najib was yet to be charged with corruption and Tengku Maimun was not even Chief Justice.

Zamani was particularly targeting Najib’s 1MDB scandal, but Tengku Maimun was presiding Najib’s appeal involving SRC International – an entirely different case. Najib was only charged in July 2018. The High Court found him guilty on July 28, 2020, some two years later. Subsequently, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision on December 7, 2021. Therefore, the subject of sub judice does not arise.

It was Najib himself, who had fired his lead counsel Shafee and appointed Hisyam as a replacement. Then he turned around, crying and whining that he was unrepresented because his new counsel was unprepared and demanded four months, without which the lawyer threatened the Federal Court that the client would be left defenceless. Yet, the lawyer he had dismissed suddenly appeared in the courtroom.

In April 2014, the Federal Court rejected Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s letter applying for an extended deadline to file the petition of appeal against his second sodomy conviction, despite the death of his lead counsel Karpal Singh. Was sore loser Najib’s excuse for an extension of four months more valid and justifiable than Anwar’s appeal back then?

Under the then-Najib administration, Anwar could not even get a single day of postponement despite the death of his lawyer. Now, under PM Ismail Sabri, a junior comrade of Najib, it’s laughable that the former premier has the cheek to cry injustice. Najib has not one, but two hotshot lead counsels, and none of them has died. If Najib was denied a fair trial, how do you describe Anwar’s?

The sudden appearance (and subsequent disappearance after his request for adjournment was flatly rejected) of Shafee in the courtroom and Hisyam’s refusal to present his final oral argument to defend Najib had made the job much easier for the five-member bench of the Federal Court. It was taken as the defence’s failure to raise reasonable doubt.

It also means that it was empty rhetoric when Najib and his former lead counsel Shafee had previously expressed confidence when they submitted 94 grounds in the Petition of Appeal on why the former prime minister should be freed of the charges of misappropriating RM42 million in SRC International. Despite the so-called 94 grounds, they dared not or were incapable of raising even one reasonable doubt. – Finance Twitter