Trial of Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak is postponed pending an appeal

Photo by Hadi Azmi.

The trial of Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak on corruption charges has been postponed pending an appeal over a procedural matter. No new date has been set.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to a total of 42 charges, but the trial that had been scheduled to start tomorrow (Tuesday) concerned only the allegations related to SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of the sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

It is alleged in the initial seven charges brought against Najib that 42 million Malaysian ringgit (about US$10.3 million) was transferred from SRC International to his personal bank account.

These seven charges were scheduled to be dealt with during the first trial and a decision had been due to be made in the High Court about three further charges related to SRC funds. Najib pleaded not guilty to those charges in the Sessions Court on February 8.

In the additional charges, it is alleged that Najib laundered 47 million ringgit through three private bank accounts in July 2014.

Today a panel of three appellate court judges – Ahmadi Haji Asnawi, Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, and Yew Jen Kie – unanimously allowed the defence’s application for a postponement.

The appeal related to the prosecution’s withdrawal of a 418A certificate of transfer of the initial seven charges.

At the Sessions Court last year, the prosecution issued a certificate under Section 418A of the Criminal Procedure Code to transfer the cases from the Sessions Court to the High Court.

On February 7, the High Court judge Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali allowed the prosecution’s application to withdraw the certificate. The attorney-general Tommy Thomas said he wished to withdraw the certificate so as to avoid any possible argument that the transfer was null and void.

Justice Nazlan also exercised his discretion to order the transfer of the seven charges from the Sessions Court to the High Court.

Najib’s lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah (pictured left) said the withdrawal of the certificate had affected the entire trial. He also said that it was “ridiculous” to add three new charges just before the trial was due to start.

In the case of the three additional charges, Najib’s pleas were entered initially at the High Court on January 28.

Shafee says it was illegal for the prosecution to introduce three new charges without bringing them initially before the Sessions Court.

On February 7, the prosecution withdrew the three additional charges and asked for Najib to be given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal. The next day Najib pleaded not guilty to the same three charges in a hearing at the Sessions Court.

Today, Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali allowed the application by the prosecution to transfer the three charges from the Sessions Court to the High Court.

However, the judge dismissed the prosecution’s application for the three additional charges to be dealt with in the same trial as the seven initial charges relating to SRC International.

He said he had no issue with the transfer per se, but the issue of a joint trial was premature because it was within the jurisdiction of the High Court that tries the matter.

Najib’s government created SRC in 2011 to pursue overseas investments in energy resources. It was a subsidiary of 1MDB until it was transferred to the finance ministry in 2012.

On July 4 last year, Najib pleaded not guilty to three charges of alleged criminal breach of trust and one of alleged abuse of power and, on August 8, he pleaded not guilty to three money laundering charges.

In its investigations into allegations about 1MDB, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission initially focused on the alleged siphoning of funds from SRC International to Najib’s account.

The breach of trust charges have been brought under Section 409 of the Penal Code. They each carry a maximum sentence of twenty years in jail. They also carry the penalty of caning, but, except in cases of rape, men aged over fifty are exempt and Najib is aged 65.

The abuse of power charge comes under Section 23 of the 2009 Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act. It also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a fine of no less than five times the value of funds siphoned or 10,000 ringgit, whichever is higher.

It is alleged that between December 24 and December 29, 2014, at the AmIslamic Bank Bhd, Najib committed a breach of trust involving a sum of 27 million ringgit.  Then prime minister and finance minister, Najib had a mandate to manage four billion ringgit in funds belonging to SRC International.

He is alleged, over the same period, to have committed a second breach of trust involving five million ringgit. It is also alleged that, from February 10 to March 2, 2015, he committed a third breach of trust involving 10 million ringgit.

In the fourth charge, it is alleged that, between August 2011 and February 2012, Najib abused his position to receive a 42 million ringgit bribe as an inducement to provide a government guarantee for a four billion ringgit loan from the Kumpulan Wang Persaraan pension fund to SRC International.

In the case of 25 charges brought on September 20, Najib is accused of using his position as prime minister, finance minister, and chairman of 1MDB to obtain nearly 2.3 billion ringgit (about US$556.23 million) in illegal transfers to his own accounts between 2011 and 2014.

Najib and former treasury secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah were charged on October 25 at the Sessions Court with six counts of criminal breach of trust allegedly involving more than 6.6 billion ringgit of government funds. They pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Najib has also pleaded not guilty to one charge of tampering with a 1MDB final audit document.

He was accused of using his position as prime minister to order alterations to the 1MDB final audit report before it was tabled to the Public Accounts Committee so as to avoid any civil disciplinary action being taken against him.

The charge was brought under Section 23(1) of the 2009 Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act.

The Barisan Nasional coalition led by Najib was ousted by the opposition in Malaysia’s 14th general election in May last year. It was the first time since the country gained its independence from Britain in 1957 that the ruling coalition lost an election.

Najib arriving at the Kuala Lumpur court in August last year.