PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has fixed June 1 to finalise Najib Razak’s appeal to disqualify retired judge Gopal Sri Ram from leading the prosecution in the ongoing 1MDB audit report tampering trial.
Deputy public prosecutor Mohamad Mustaffa Kunyalam said this was because Najib’s lawyer had only yesterday filed the petition of appeal which argues where the trial judge, in the defence’s opinion, had gone wrong in his verdict.
“At the next case management, it will be determined how long parties will take to submit, and fix the hearing date,” he said after a virtual case management before deputy registrar Mohd Khairi Harun.
Lawyer Nur Syahirah Hanapiah represented the ex-prime minister.
On Feb 15, High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan dismissed Najib’s application to disqualify Sri Ram saying it was without basis and misplaced.
Najib, with the support of two affidavits, one filed by him and the other by former attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali, filed the application last August.
In Apandi’s affidavit, the former AG said Sri Ram had told him that then opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad had ordered him (Apandi) to arrest Najib for an unspecified offence in January 2018.
Najib also referred to a WhatsApp conversation between Sri Ram and Apandi which Najib claimed indicated bias in asking Apandi to charge him.
He claimed that Sri Ram was involved in the 1MDB-related investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and, therefore, it would have caused him to pre-judge the culpability of the matter.
However, Zaini in his judgment said Sri Ram, like any other person, was entitled to his personal opinion.
“It would have been a different consideration if he had demonstrated his biasness when carrying his duty as senior public prosecutor,” the judge said when giving his oral grounds.
Zaini said the event took place before Sri Ram was appointed as an ad hoc prosecutor.
Najib, 67, and former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy, 45, are on trial over 1MDB audit tampering charges before Zaini.
The Pekan MP is charged with using his position to order amendments to the 1MDB final audit report before it was presented to the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament to avoid any action being taken against him.
Arul Kanda is charged with abetting Najib in making the amendments to the report to protect Najib from being subjected to action.
Najib first attempted to disqualify Sri Ram in 2018 in another trial where he faced 25 charges of corruption and money laundering in the alleged transfer of 1MDB funds into his accounts.
In August 2019, a seven-member Federal Court bench chaired by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat ruled that Sri Ram’s appointment by former AG Tommy Thomas a year earlier was valid.
Najib’s lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is facing a RM9.5 million money laundering charge, is also attempting to disqualify Sri Ram. Shafee’s appeal is now before the Court of Appeal.
Rosmah Mansor, wife of Najib, who is facing corruption charges, is also attempting to recuse Sri Ram after the Court of Appeal last month allowed her lawyers to obtain a copy of his appointment letter.
Akberdin Abdul Kader, a member of Rosmah’s legal team, said Sri Ram should voluntarily withdraw from continuing leading the prosecution team before the start of the defence case in June.
It is unclear what their next move will be.
Rosmah, 69, is accused of soliciting RM187.5 million from former Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd managing director Saidi Abang Samsudin, through her then aide Rizal Mansor, as an inducement to help the company secure a solar project through direct negotiations with the education ministry.
She is also accused of two counts of receiving bribes amounting to RM6.5 million from Saidi between 2016 and 2017.