Najib gets to call handwriting expert to verify his signatures at SRC trial

Kenneth Tee
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 22, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak won the High Court’s approval today for a handwriting expert to authenticate his signatures on documents tendered as evidence in his trial for misappropriating RM42 million from SRC International Sdn Bhd.

Najib previously applied to the court for permission to appoint and engage an Australian handwriting expert, Steven Strach, to scrutinise several disputed photocopied documents and to determine if his signatures on these documents were forged.

In his ruling, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said the prosecution’s claim that the basis for Najib’s application was an afterthought or a recent invention was not a valid reason to bar the accused from leading evidence in his defence.

There are six disputed documents related to the SRC shareholders’ minutes and one on the instruction to transfer money to Ambank where Najib had private accounts.

“I, therefore, allow the application for the examination of the exhibits but only to those referred to as disputed documents in paragraph 4 of the written submissions of the applicant.

“Consequent to my allowing this application by the accused, considering the facts and circumstances of this application, I further rule that this is a proper case for this court and that it is essential to the just decision of the case to allow the prosecution to call rebuttal witness under Section 425 of the Criminal Procedure Code should it wish to do so in relation to the evidence that may be given by the expert document examiner should this expert be called by the defence,” the judge said while delivering his decision this morning.

Previously, the prosecutors described the bid for an external expert as a tactical manoeuvre purely meant to put the prosecution at a disadvantage.

The prosecution also argued that the defence did not raise the question of authenticity or mention possible forgery during the prosecution stage despite having the opportunity then.

Explaining his decision, Mohd Nazlan said an accused in his defence was entitled to procure and lead any relevant evidence of his choice under the law.

He pointed out that the evidentiary value of the intended evidence and whether the credibility of the defence of the accused is adversely affected by any afterthought were issues to be determined at the end of the case.

“It is settled law that even if a defence is not put to the prosecution witnesses, the court is still bound to consider the defence, however weak.

“This would ensure that the best evidence on the authenticity of the disputed documents is made available to this court.

“It is the duty of this court to ensure that the integrity of the trial process and the constitutional right of the accused to a fair trial is upheld at all times,” he said.

Mohd Nazlan then ordered the defence to arrange for the expert examination to take place starting next week — for a period of not more than two days — before the trial resumes on February 3.

This was to ensure that the examination of the exhibits in dispute did not interfere with the proceedings of the case.

“The venue will be in the court premises, to be further notified by the Deputy Registrar, and with representatives of the prosecution, defence and the court to be in attendance,” he added.

Najib has been called to enter his defence to answer seven charges related to SRC International Sdn Bhd.

Three are for criminal breach of trust over a total RM42 million of SRC International funds while entrusted with its control as the prime minister and finance minister then, three more are for laundering the RM42 million, and the last is for abusing the same positions for self-gratification of the same sum.

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