Najib Razak’s new lead counsel seeks to recuse himself from 1MDB-linked trial, says not enough time to prepare for appeal

In a surprising turn of events, former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, who is representing the 69 year-old in his SRC International appeal at the Federal Court, has sought to excuse himself as Najib’s lawyer.

Hisyam apologised and told the court today that his decision was based on the fact that he had no time to prepare for the appeal. This comes after the court again rejected a fresh application by Najib’s lawyers this morning to postpone the hearing of the appeal.

After taking a break to decide Hisyam’s request the court came back and rejected his request. Hisyam, meanwhile, stood by his submission to recuse himself.

Prior to the decision, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat who heads a five-member Federal Court bench told Hisyam “as (lead) counsel you should not walk away and leave your client (Najib) unrepresented”.

“The fact that SG (Solicitor-General 1 Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh) is here for the prosecution and he has no objection does not change anything.

“You still need our permission if you want to discharge,” she said.

The Federal Court had set aside nine days, from Aug 15 to Aug 19 as well as Aug 23 to Aug 26, to hear the appeal.

She said that the court had faith in Hisyam and his associate attorney’s capacity to handle the appeal.

The court on Tuesday rejected Hisyam’s previous request to postpone the appeal hearing by “three to four months” following the resolution of Najib’s request to introduce new evidence.

After the top court’s decision, Hisyam expressed to the media his “deep disappointment” and said that, given the circumstances, his plea for a postponement was “fair and acceptable.”

Two prior requests to adjourn the hearing—one made in writing on July 26 and the second made in person at case management three days later—were similarly denied.

On July 25, the appeal was taken over by the former prime minister’s present attorneys, Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners.

Najib had fired Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, his lead defence lawyer and his team last month.

Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali of the High Court found Najib guilty of seven criminal offences in 2020 for stealing RM42 million (US$ 9.4 million) from SRC International.

He received a 12-year jail term and a RM 210 million fine from the judge. The conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal on December 8, 2021, when the three-judge panel unanimously dismissed Najib’s appeal against the High Court’s decision.

Najib’s appeal at the Federal Court is his last chance to overturn the conviction.