PUTRAJAYA (Jan 19): Lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah on Thursday (Jan 19) denied that there was a ploy by his client Datuk Seri Najib Razak to delay his appeal hearing at the Federal Court last August by changing solicitors a month earlier.
Submitting at the hearing of Najib's application at the apex court to have the former prime minister’s conviction and sentence in the SRC International Sdn Bhd case reviewed, Shafee said his firm, Shafee & Co, had an acrimonious relationship with Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew and Partners (ZIST).
ZIST had taken over from Shafee & Co as solicitors in the appeal hearing in August.
Shafee said even the prosecution recognized that there was no attempt to delay the hearing,
“There was never any attempt to delay Najib’s appeal hearing between the two firms. I was caught by surprise on returning from Italy on July 25 on being informed that ZIST is replacing my firm as solicitors and Datuk Hisyam Teh Poh Teik has been pulled in to represent the former premier."
Shafee’s firm had represented Najib in the SRC trial at the High Court, and had handled his first appeal at the Court of Appeal.
The lawyer said ZIST had tried to convince Najib that the firm could secure an adjournment after trying to adduce further evidence on trial judge Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali to better prepare for the main appeal.
Prior to this, there were reports that Nazlan had been dealing with 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the former parent company of SRC, as he had acted as general counsel at Maybank. There was also a probe done by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission on him.
Shafee said ZIST was relying on Hisyam’s impeccable reputation to convince the bench last August to grant the adjournment after it heard the application on Nazlan.
He also accused ZIST of using a Singapore-based lawyer who purportedly had disciplinary problems to be part of its team.
He added that ZIST also brought in two lawyers from India who supposedly had commercial crime background, “whereas on our (Shafee’s) side we were trying to appeal and have King’s Counsel Jonathan Laidlaw, a renowned expert in commercial law, to handle the matter.”
“I have consulted many legal friends in the United Kingdom and United States who described the 1MDB and SRC case as one of the most complex white collar commercial crimes. That was the reason we tried to pull in Laidlaw,” the lawyer said.
However, Najib’s legal team under ZIST had dropped the appeal on Laidlaw and wanted to pursue the Nazlan issue, said Shafee.
He added that he believed that ZIST may have allegedly hoodwinked the former premier that all this could be done with Hisyam leading the appeal.
But this failed and the adjournment was not given, said Shafee, adding that ZIST was allowed to discharge itself from representing Najib, while Hisyam was not allowed to pull out as the Federal Court did not want to see the accused not being represented.
This had left Najib in a precarious position, the lawyer said.
Shafee said as Hisyam was not prepared to handle the full appeal, he sought an adjournment of between three or four months from the apex court to come better prepared, as he was only brought in to argue on the Nazlan issue.
Despite this, the bench led by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat did not grant the adjournment and this constituted one of the four grounds cited by Najib in seeking a review of the Aug 23 decision that resulted in him being taken to the Kajang prison to begin serving a 12-year jail term, besides being fined RM210 million.
Najib had been found guilty and convicted on seven charges by Nazlan, in relation to criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power in relation to SRC funds.
Following this, Shafee had been brought back by Najib to handle the ongoing review which is scheduled to continue for another three days beginning Feb 20.
The review application is being heard by a five-member bench chaired by newly minted Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli.
Najib’s objection to appelate court judge sitting on SRC review bench dismissed
Shafee criticises the unusual, hurried nature of CJ bench’s refusal to allow an adjournment to Najib’s appeal last August
Najib’s last attempt to appeal against SRC conviction