KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — The High Court today decided that Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s trial must go on as scheduled to preserve the precious few remaining hearing dates, rejecting the Umno president’s attempt to delay proceedings pending a related matter.
Today is the eighth day that Ahmad Zahid has been testifying on the witness stand.
At the end of Ahmad Zahid’s testimony this afternoon, his lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik requested for the trial to be temporarily paused until the High Court hears an application related to this case on July 7 or next Thursday.
This trial has already been scheduled to run on from this Monday to this Thursday, as well as next Monday to next Thursday.
High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah then said that this trial has to continue on.
Lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik is seen at the Shah Alam Court Complex in this March 2019 file photograph. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
What the defence wants
Previously on February 18, Ahmad Zahid had applied to get the statements that anti-corruption investigators had recorded from 18 witnesses in his case, in order to prepare his defence in this trial.
The High Court on May 9 rejected Ahmad Zahid’s bid for the witnesses’ statements and he had on May 10 appealed to the Court of Appeal to obtain the statements of just 11 of the witnesses. The appeal has yet to be heard.
Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers had on June 23 applied for the High Court to stay or pause his trial, until the Court of Appeal decides on his appeal to get the witnesses’ statements. The High Court yesterday scheduled July 7 as the hearing date for this stay application.
As a defence witness in court, Ahmad Zahid has to go through three stages of testimony, namely examination-in-chief, cross-examination and re-examination.
The examination-in-chief stage is where Ahmad Zahid testified and answered questions by his own lawyers to further explain his evidence, while the cross-examination stage is when the prosecution would question him, and the re-examination stage is when Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers would ask questions to enable him to clarify his testimony.
Hisyam asked for the trial to be temporarily suspended as his examination-in-chief was completed this afternoon and not to have the prosecution cross-examine his client, until the High Court hears on July 7 the actual application to stay the trial while waiting for the Court of Appeal’s decision.
But the High Court judge said: “But the trial here has to continue to proceed, I can’t allow any stay until I make my decision. And even then, assuming I refuse stay and you all go to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal grants stay, then there is no problem. But if they don’t grant a stay, we have to still carry on.”
Hisyam explained that the stay application due to be heard on July 7 had come with an affidavit asking for Ahmad Zahid to not be cross-examined until the Court of Appeal’s decision, as there is a need for the accused person to be able to provide a complete defence by being armed with the other witnesses’ previous statements to investigators.
Hisyam offered to have the stay application heard as early as tomorrow instead of July 7.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak (centre) arrives at Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on June 23, 2022. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Prosecution accuses defence of ‘last-minute’ ambush
But lead prosecutor Datuk Raja Rozela Raja Toran said the prosecution was not ready to present its arguments tomorrow, due to the short notice given by Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers.
“First of all, we were ambushed with the notice of motion sent by email on Saturday. And number two, we need to file our affidavit in reply, that’s given, we can’t do without that.
“And number three, if we are not allowed, or if say Your Lordship were to grant tomorrow that we don’t proceed with cross-examination, then what else are we supposed to do? What happens to this trial? What happens to the dates we have fixed? So, I object to the application for stay, whether it be stay of cross-examination or stay of the whole proceedings,” she said.
Hisyam said the stay application and the appeal would become nugatory or of no value or would be of no purpose anymore, if the prosecution is allowed to cross-examine Ahmad Zahid before the Court of Appeal’s decision.
The judge however noted that there would be no prejudice to Ahmad Zahid if the Court of Appeal decides to allow the provision of the other witnesses’ statements as Ahmad Zahid could be called back to testify, saying: “Then you will have a chance to recall, so there’s no prejudice, but I can’t give up on dates that I have already fixed. So we carry on with cross-examination and I will allow you whatever leeway whichever way the court decides.”
The judge later also remarked that this is the first time that he is hearing that he would have to vacate all the previously scheduled trial dates from tomorrow until next Wednesday and to wait for the hearing on July 7 (next Thursday), stressing that he did not want the trial to be impeded.
Hisyam apologised for this and explained that the stay application to be heard on July 7 is part of the fair trial process, offering to have the hearing brought forward by presenting his arguments tomorrow and to let the prosecution present its arguments in reply on another day.
He had explained that Ahmad Zahid would otherwise be cross-examined when he is not able yet to give his complete defence, after having been able to view the statements by the 11 other witnesses to investigators.
Hisyam said he was confident that the statements of these other witnesses will corroborate and support Ahmad Zahid’s testimony, and that it would then enable Ahmad Zahid to tell the court that his testimony is backed by these other witnesses.
Raja Rozela also described Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers’ application as a last-minute bid which could have been filed earlier after the High Court’s previous May 9 decision.
“They are asking for justice and imposing on us, we are bullied, I don’t appreciate this. They ambushed, they should have filed this notice as and when Your Lordship made this ruling, they could have asked for stay so we would all know what they intend to do. This is a last-ditch attempt, last minute.
Asked by the judge how the cross-examination of Ahmad Zahid would be prejudicial to his bid to seek for other witnesses’ statements, Raja Rozela replied that it would actually not matter whether Ahmad Zahid is able to obtain these statements before he is cross-examined or after cross-examination begins.
The judge also remarked: “I’m not prepared to wait, honestly, because my dates are at a premium. Maybe proceed with cross-examination.”
Raja Rozela argued that Ahmad Zahid’s stay application was actually not “urgent” and indicated that the prosecution is being “rushed” into preparing the affidavit in reply and arguments while also cross-examining him.
In order to accommodate the position and requests of both the prosecution and the defence, the judge then decided to bring forward the hearing of the stay application to July 4 (next Monday), but also stressed the trial must go on in the meantime with Ahmad Zahid to be cross-examined.
“So, I fix the application for hearing on 4th instead of 7th, but I think in the meantime the cross-examination to proceed,” the judge said.
The prosecution will proceed to cross-examine Ahmad Zahid tomorrow, as decided by the High Court today.
In this trial, Ahmad Zahid ― who is a former deputy prime minister and former home minister― faces 47 charges, namely 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.
The High Court judge hearing this case is also hearing the trial of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the alleged misappropriation of over RM2 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds.
The trial dates for Ahmad Zahid’s case are limited, as most of the weeks from August to December this year are already scheduled for Najib’s 1MDB trial before the same High Court.