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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s corruption trial over more than RM2 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had to be halted today, as a witness who was testifying in court has been informed that his friend has tested positive for Covid-19.
This is the second time in the past two weeks that concerns of the Covid-19 risk have caused disruptions to the trial.
Following a short break in trial proceedings this morning, deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib informed the High Court that the 10th prosecution witness Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman had during the break checked his mobile phone and read a text message from his friend who had just tested positive for Covid-19.
“The 10th prosecution witness and this friend of his had a meeting last Monday after the trial for about one hour in the same meeting room, but according to him, it was not that close, it’s about two metres. But he was in the same meeting room, more than one hour, less than two hours.
“Therefore, Yang Arif, I would seek Your Lordship’s instructions, direction, whether we want to continue with him today or we should stop the proceedings this morning,” Akram told the court.
Akram confirmed that Hazem’s status was unknown for now, noting that the meeting was three days ago.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah then said that Hazem would be considered to be the primary exposure to the person who had just tested positive, while the lawyers and officials in the same courtroom would be those who are in the secondary exposure group.
“I think we ought not to take the risk because the period of gestation, we don’t know…I think we can’t take the risk because there’s many of us, Yang Arif,” Shafee said, noting that it would be known by the next hearing date whether Hazem himself tests negative or positive for Covid-19.
Akram also noted that it would be difficult to arrange for another prosecution witness to attend trial today to testify on such a short notice.
High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah noted the risks of continuing with trial, before deciding to adjourn the 1MDB trial and resume hearing the trial on the next scheduled date of May 3.
“I think a bit of risk continuing with the 10th prosecution witness, because we don’t know whether he’s also infected or whether asymptomatic,” the judge said, while also noting that the other option of calling in another witness would not be feasible as the prosecution said it would not be able to arrange for this.
While noting that today is the last day of trial in February for the 1MDB case and with the case only resuming in May, the judge nevertheless decided to stop proceedings due to the risk.
“I think it’s not prudent to take the risk of exposure. We simply do not know. I’m constrained to, I suppose, adjourn. Well, reluctant as I am, I think we’ll adjourn today’s proceedings,” the judge said.
“In any event, I’m sure he will go for a test, will you be able to inform the court, and also the defence team of the status,” the judge asked the prosecution.
Akram then confirmed the prosecution will provide updates on Hazem’s own Covid-19 test results: “I will inform the court as soon as possible.”
Last Wednesday (February 10), Hazem did not attend court and could not continue testifying in Najib’s 1MDB trial as he was ill with fever, with the judge directing for him to undergo Covid-19 testing. He later tested negative and resumed testifying this Monday.
MORE TO COME