PUTRAJAYA, Aug 18 — After the Federal Court today dismissed his lead counsel’s application for discharge, Datuk Seri Najib Razak lamented that he is now effectively “defenceless” in his final appeal against his conviction of misappropriating funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd.
Stating that his right to life, liberty and a fair hearing was at stake, Najib said he wished to record his objections “in the strongest of terms” in relation to the ongoing appeal.
“As you know, my counsels have indicated they are unwilling to continue as they have very limited time to prepare.
“Unfortunately, the court did not allow them to be discharged and that includes my team of solicitors,” he told reporters at the Palace of Justice here.
Citing the Federal Court’s ruling in denying his counsel an application to discharge themselves, Najib said his defence could not be put across during proceedings and only the prosecution was given the opportunity to present their case.
“In such a high-profile case, it is totally unprecedented, in a criminal case, for the defence is left without any counsel. This is a very serious matter and I hope that the court will take that into account and make remedial measures at some point in time.
“I am now left without, in effect, in reality, a defence counsel,” he said.
Stating that it was most unfortunate he would not be able to present his defence, Najib insisted that he possesses a very strong and credible defence that Hisyam, if given reasonable time, would be able to use in his favour.
“Nevertheless, I do pray and I do hope for a fair trial and for justice to prevail,” Najib added.
Explaining his decision to discharge his former counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Najib said he opted to do so after losing both his case and his appeal at the High Court and the Court of Appeal respectively.
“I would also like to explain that while Tan Sri Shafee and his company have done a sterling job to represent me, notwithstanding that I have lost both at the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
“On top of that, I had wanted to engage an eminent Queen’s Counsel (QC) to represent me and that was also denied by the High Court.
“Under such circumstances, I was left with no choice but to look for a fresh team as I wanted a new perspective to my case; hence, I appointed Tuan Haji Hisyam and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim as a team of solicitors,” he said.
In a statement provided to the media, Najib said he was “not ashamed” to admit that he was desperate to seek for new counsel after having his bid to have a QC argue his case denied, as any litigant in his predicament would have done the same.
“My intention was not to simply delay the court process but rather because Jonathan Laidlaw’s application was ultimately rejected less than a month before the scheduled dates; hence, the need for the sudden engagement of new counsel.
Najib also revealed that Zaid had approached him some time ago, noting that the latter was able to bring in legal expertise from India to argue his appeals at the Federal Court.
He further noted in his statement that he was convinced this was an appropriate decision after being told that other high-profile appeals in the past were granted adjournments in the spirit of due process and to facilitate an effective representation of an accused person.
“Any new team bringing in fresh ideas will need time. I am not ashamed to say I was desperate, as would any litigant in my predicament.
“I am now in a situation where my right to counsel and a fair hearing is illusory because I made a decision that I thought was in my best interest at the time,” the statement read.
The Court of Appeal had on December 8, 2021 upheld the High Court’s July 2020 verdict and sentence of 12 years in prison and a fine of RM210 million meted against Najib.
Najib had been found guilty of one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust, and three counts of money laundering.
The hearing at the country’s supreme court had been scheduled to take place over nine days, from August 15 to August 19, and will resume after this weekend from August 23 to August 26.
August 15 and 16 were spent hearing Najib’s bid to add new evidence and seek a postponement that were ultimately disallowed by the Federal Court. The court then fixed August 18 as the start of the main SRC International appeal hearing.
The case is now at the Federal Court, and it is Najib’s last chance to convince the judges that his conviction and punishment should be overturned.