KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 — Lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah today agreed to refrain from attacking the prosecution through media statements about the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) trial.
However, the defence lawyer for Datuk Seri Najib Razak said this does not mean he will stop speaking to the press about his client, who is accused of misappropriating RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds.
“I must first of all profusely apologise to my learned friend if there was a misconstruction of the purpose of the media statement,” Shafee said in court, proffering an apology to lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram who warned the defence yesterday against conducting the 1MDB trial through the media.
He denied making exaggerated remarks in his media statement, telling High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah that he was only trying to explain to reporters outside the courtroom that the money purportedly from 1MDB was actually Saudi donations.
Lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court September 12, 2022. — Picture by Hari Anggara
But Sri Ram maintained that Shafee’s actions took the trial outside the courtroom when it should rightly be conducted inside before the judge.
“I have no difficulty with the explanation given by my learned friend as to his unhappiness with our not having produced some documents accorded to him,” the prosecutor said.
“My only point is he could have raised this before Your Lordship, because he has to fight in court, we cannot fight in the media. He fights in the media, does he expect me to go to the media and have the entire case taken out of Your Lordship's hands?
“If my learned friend has any complaint against us, we are happy to take it before Your Lordship. We are prepared to take any brickbats from my learned friend but before Your Lordship.
“I'm in an invidious position because I cannot respond to this, and I can only respond before Your Lordship, that is my difficulty. I will be very grateful to my learned friend to refrain from doing this, if he has any complaint with how we conduct the case, he can place it before Your Lordship, I have no problem with it,” he said.
“All I ask of my learned friend, please don't discuss anything with media, got anything to complain, either raise it with us or before Your Lordship,” he added.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 3, 2022. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
But Shafee alleged “selective reporting” by certain media outlets covering the trial, purporting that the reporters focused on the prosecution's case and not the defence’s questions to witnesses during cross-examination.
He claimed his press statements were to have the media also report the defence’s arguments in court.
“Otherwise in view of the fact there is a lopsided reporting, I have to take the matter to explain to them, not because I'm taking the trial to another forum, that's not my intention. And it was not an argument before the media, it was just an explanation and putting it as bluntly as possible. That is all,” he said.
The judge then asked: “But I suppose this will be the end of the matter as far as making media statement are concerned?”
Shafee said he will not stop making media statements on the 1MDB trial as long as he is not committing contempt of court.
“Oh, no, Yang Arif, hardly. I will tell Yang Arif if there's a necessity to make a media statement, barring contempt or being unfair, we will engage the media to clarify”.
But Shafee conceded that it was only “fair” not to publicly comment on how the prosecution runs its case and limit his remarks to the media on how the defence does it when the judge pointed out that Sri Ram was saying that any comment on the way the prosecution is conducting the 1MDB case should be raised in the courtroom and not outside.
The judge said this was because the prosecution said it could not respond to Shafee's complaints if he made it outside of court.
“That's fair enough,” Shafee reiterated.
“I suppose we can let matters rest as they are,” the judge then said.
The 1MDB trial resumed with the cross-examination of the 39th prosecution witness, Cheah Tek Kuang, who was formerly the managing director of the AmBank group.
Last Monday, Shafee issued a press statement and held a press conference regarding evidence in Najib's 1MDB trial, claiming that the prosecution had allegedly failed to disclose several transactions involving hundreds of millions of US dollars purportedly from a prince and the Saudi's Finance Ministry.
Yesterday, Sri Ram told High Court that he objected strongly to Shafee’s press statement and said he will seek a court order against the defence lawyers if they continued to conduct the 1MDB trial through the media.
On the first day of trial, the prosecution said it would prove that RM2,282,937,678.41 or over RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds had entered Najib’s personal bank accounts from the 1MDB scheme, including via companies allegedly linked to fugitive Low Taek Jho’s associate Eric Tan.
While the prosecution has been producing bankers and multiple bank documents as part of its efforts to prove its case against Najib to show that billions of ringgit had flowed into his accounts, Najib’s lawyers have been trying to put forth the narrative — including through four letters from the purported Saudi prince — that the money were actually donated gifts from Saudi royalty.