Najib’s SRC appeal derailed by last-minute lawyer change, prosecutors say

The lawyer must be willing to argue even if appointed close to the hearing date, says ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram.

Ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram says moving to lawyers unwilling to proceed will open the floodgates for everyone to request an adjournment.

PUTRAJAYA: Najib Razak’s latest appeal against the conviction and verdict in the SRC International corruption case has been derailed by his own act of changing his entire legal team, prosecutors told the federal court today.

“We would not be here today without the defendant’s attempt to change ‘horses,'” ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram told a five-member panel hearing the former prime minister’s request to seek a review of the Supreme Court’s decision his appeal.

The panel is chaired by the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Abdul Rahman Sebli.

It also includes Justices Vernon Ong, Rhodzariah Bujang, Nordin Hassan and Abu Bakar Jais.

The law allows each accused person to hire a lawyer of their choice, Sithambaram said, but a new lawyer must be willing to act even if appointed near the trial date.

“He or she cannot switch to lawyers who are unwilling (to proceed with the scheduled hearing) otherwise it would lead to ‘floodgates’ where anyone can come into court to ask for an adjournment.

“It will lead to problems in the administration of justice,” he said.

Prosecutors said Najib’s affidavit, filed in support of the motion, claimed that he “had been assured by the newly appointed attorneys that the federal court would give them a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the trial.”

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“Has this now become a common practice where lawyers can come to court to adjourn their cases and if the motion is denied, can later request a review?” Sithambaram asked.

In July last year, less than a month before the appeal hearing date, Najib appointed the law firm Zaid Ibrahim Suffian TH Liew & Partners as counsel to lead Shafee & Co’s appeal. He also appointed Hisyam Teh Poh Teik as the leading council.

However, Najib fired Zaid’s company shortly after his request for permission to produce new evidence was denied by federal court.

At the same time, the federal court denied Hisyam’s request to be dismissed as lead counsel. Hisyam had attempted to be replaced after his request for a stay of appeal was denied.

Instead, he was told to continue representing Najib until the case was resolved.

Judge Abu Bakar Jais, an appeals court judge who was co-opted to sit on the panel hearing the request for review, asked Sithambaram if the lower courts had rejected Najib’s requests to postpone the case in the past.

Sithambaram said the Court of Appeal rejected such a request after the defense filed an earlier bid to present new evidence – relating to Zeti Akhtar Aziz’s family who allegedly received funds from Low Taek Jho – shortly before the planned handover of the Court of Appeals Decision on Najib’s Initial Appeal by High Court.

“They asked for the decision to be adjourned, but the court went ahead with it,” he added.

Najib is currently serving a 12-year sentence after his conviction and conviction in the SRC International case were upheld by federal court.

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His appeal to the Court of Appeals against that decision was dismissed on December 8, 2021.

On August 23 last year, a five-person panel of the Federal Court of Justice, headed by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, dismissed his latest appeal and ordered his sentence to begin immediately.

In September 2022, Najib filed a motion to review the verdict, arguing that the court violated principles of natural justice, including his right to a fair trial and to legal counsel.