Malaysia has dispensed with juries, meaning that concerns around issues of contempt and the potential for reporting to influence the outcome of trials are lessened.
Nevertheless, Malaysians are agreed former prime minister Najib Razak ought to receive a fair and objective hearing, which was something he and his current defence lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, spectacularly denied to others when the shoe was on the other foot. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Aside from the specific details of the charges, what the unravelling of events in recent weeks has shown is just how extensively this former prime minister and those around him have been prepared to blatantly lie to justify their actions and foist accusations on others in the process.
Given this record of lying, it is likely to be challenging for Najib to present himself as a reliable or trustworthy character with regard to a single thing he says. Take for a start today’s charges, which mirror the original charges against him in 2015, which were published at the time by Sarawak Report.
Back in 2015 Najib immediately announced that these charges (now confirmed by Dr Mahathir after consultation with the former attorney general) were a complete fabrication. Not only that, Najib used the false denial to set the full force of the law onto Sarawak Report.
A raft of charges were brought, accusing the editor of scheming to bring ‘false news’ and to destabilise the government, described as ‘activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy’.
Not satisfied with issuing an arrest warrant in Malaysia on these exotic grounds, Najib even went so far as to attempt to get INTERPOL to also issue a Red Notice terror alert, all based on the same false denial about a story that has turned out to be true.
The prime minister went on to employ executive powers to ban online access to Sarawak Report and bully other media into not covering any of this website’s further reporting, again on the grounds of his own false denial. A campaign of online villification and defamation was then unleased to attempt to further discredit Sarawak Report.
Far worse was experienced by whistleblower Xavier Justo, who was denounced and then arrested and imprisoned on false charges in Thailand as part of the same campaign to deny thefts from 1MDB.
The Swiss national was blackmailed in captivity to issue false confessions, all designed to exonerate the Malaysian prime minister and others on matters relating to the very charges he now seeks to deny, namely those thefts from the fund.
Najib therefore has not just a record of denying the truth, he has come after those who spoke the truth with a vengeance and forced others to tell lies to suit his narrative. So what credibility will his denials hold, one wonders, against the charges themselves? It will be for the judges, thankfully, to weigh the facts.
Lawyer Shafee Abdullah
This astonishing case is of course further distinguished by the fact that the leading defence lawyer has arguably almost as extensive a track record of being accused of dishonesty and abuse of process as his client himself.
He has taken on the case after several previous lawyers hired by Najib headed for the exit, however Shafee Abdullah goes way back with the prime minister as the world knows. Indee, there is barely a controversial case involving Najib, that has not also involved Shafee over the past decade.
The Altantuya cover-up and the now rejected and discredited prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim were both managed by Shafee on behalf of Najib. Indeed, over the past few weeks Shafee has been publicly roasted by a high court jusge for having claimed to be the legal representative for Deepak Jaikashan in the Altantuya cover-up, when in fact Deepak complained he was being blackmailed to accept Shafee as his representative to enable Najib to control his submissions in the case.
The judge threw Shafee’s out , along with this lawyer’s cooked up defence, which Deepak complained had been constructed on behalf of his secret genuine client, Najib Razak, not the actual defendant, whom he was purporting to represent.
Last year Shafee attempted to sue fellow lawyers, including the present attorney general Tommy Thomas, for libel over their reporting of him to the Bar Council for improper conduct over the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim. Shafee’s conduct during that prosecution had indeed been the subject of much concern on many levels and his libel case was thrown out by the judge on the grounds that the reporting of the matter to the Bar Council was well justified.
So, this duplicitous pair are now to be the key players in the upcoming headline grabbing trial where Najib is defending himself against charges brought by none other, of course, than Tommy Thomas.
On the matter of payments, Sarawak Report has already revealed that Najib issued Shafee two cheques totalling RM9.5 million in late 2013 and early 2014, from one of the suspect SRC funded accounts that are at the centre of this trial.
The reason for those two payments have never been explained, although they coincided with the period during which Shafee usurped the role of the public prosecutor in the Anwar case, which he claimed he had performed for free as a public service to the nation.
He has yet to comment whether he will be taking a fee to defend Najib. However, what is certain is that any writer would be hard pressed make up a stranger set of circumstances or such a narrative of role reversals as the one about to be played out in the Malaysian High Court before the eyes of the world over coming weeks.