High Court sets Feb 15 to deliver decision on Najib’s third attempt to disqualify Sri Ram as his lead prosecutor in 1MDB trials

Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
·5-min read
Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court September 17, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court September 17, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 — A decision as to whether former federal court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram should be disqualified from prosecuting over Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s criminal trials, for supposedly being biased, will be delivered on February 15, the High Court decided today.

Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan proposed the date to deliver his judgment after listening to more than three hours of oral submissions by both prosecution and defence lawyers, in what is Najib’s second attempt through the criminal courts to disqualify Sri Ram.

“I thank both counsels for their submissions today, and I would need about three weeks to deliver my judgment.

“This is better so that I can deliver the full grounds of judgment,” Mohamed Zaini told the court before deciding on the date and adjourning today’s proceedings.

Najib was represented by his lead defence counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah while the prosecution was led by Deputy Public Prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib.

Earlier, during oral submissions, Shafee explained to the court that unlike their previous application to disqualify Sri Ram which was eventually struck out by the Federal Court, this latest application differed as new evidence had cropped up.

The evidence Shafee was referring to concerned an exposé made by former Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi on social media in June last year, and then his subsequent affidavit submitted to the court, where the former AG claimed that Sri Ram had tried to persuade him to arraign criminal charges against Najib.

Text message exchanges from May 2018, within court documents sighted by Malay Mail, showed Sri Ram allegedly expressing his views to Apandi telling him of how he “wished” the former AG had taken his “advice to charge that criminal Najib”.

Also submitted by Shafee were details of a purported meeting that took place between Sri Ram and Apandi in January 2018, when Najib was still prime minister, where Apandi claimed the “advice” was conferred by the former federal court judge when Sri Ram visited him.

It was during this visit that Apandi that claimed Sri Ram suggested he charge Najib, where by doing so he would then be revered as a people’s hero and the first AG to charge a sitting prime minister.

Shafee submitted that Apandi’s allegations of Sri Ram having expressed such prior sentiment towards Najib’s status of innocence even before the charges were filed, was sufficient to disqualify him from prosecuting Najib’s cases involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

“He is not only biased, but there is also a perception of him being biased by the former AG.

“He (Sri Ram) believed Najib was guilty and deserves to be labeled a criminal,” Shafee submitted.

Shafee also argued that given Sri Ram having such preconceived notions of Najib, with the reputation as a senior lawyer and former federal court judge, would only cause further damage with him as Najib’s lead prosecutor, claiming he could possibly press his views onto the more junior DPPs to craft the case to his liking.

In response, Akram submitted that other DPPs also assigned to work under Sri Ram had never kowtowed to the senior lawyer, asserting how he himself had presented mistakes in draft copies of several charge sheets to Sri Ram, to which the latter responded positively.

“Do allow me to also share a story about Sri Ram. When the draft charges were presented with other DPPs in presence, and there were 11 draft charges, all of them agreed to proceed with it including Sri Ram.

“But after examining the documents, I found some errors and informed my senior, who communicated it to Sri Ram and the first thing he (Sri Ram) did was asked me, ‘who are you’, and I thought he was about to scold me.

“Then he asked me what was wrong, I pointed it out, and then he said, ‘Akram, you are right’, and he told the rest ‘from now on listen to Akram because he is able to point out my mistake’.

“My point is, until today with all the cases we are handling with Sri Ram, the applicants have failed to show a single prosecutorial misconduct by Sri Ram, and that is the threshold that should be taken by this court,” Akram submitted.

Akram further submitted that the alleged conversations between Sri Ram and Apandi were mere brotherly exchanges between two former judges who also happen to be close friends.

He argued that such messages should be interpreted in that way given the tone of Sri Ram’s replies, pointing out that the exchange ended with Sri Ram expressing how his views are only his ‘humble opinions’.

In response, Shafee disagreed that such exchanges should be written off as brotherly conversation, pointing out how the exchange should instead be seen as one taking place between a sitting Attorney General and a former federal court judge.

“He has shown a pre-opinion and now it has become a public perception.

“He gave his uninvited opinion, whether he volunteered or not is another thing, but he was speaking as a counsel to an AG in service who was serving at that time.

“We are not asking for the trial to stop but are just asking for him to be disqualified; it is not a punishment for any sort of misconduct but rather to serve as protection for the justice and the public,” he said, before Mohamed Zaini decided on his date of judgment.

Previously, Najib had in a judicial review application in the civil courts sought to remove Sri Ram as his prosecutor in 1MDB-related cases, but this was dismissed by High Court judge Datuk Seri Mariana Yahya on August 28, 2020.

Najib had also filed an application in the criminal courts to have Sri Ram removed from prosecuting his 1MDB-related cases, but this was dismissed by High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah, with both the Court of Appeal and Federal Court subsequently also dismissing the bid to disqualify Sri Ram.

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