SRC International first case against Najib as it was ‘easiest to prove’, says ex-AG Thomas

Former attorney-general Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, who initiated prosecution against Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, has finally explained why the former prime minister was first charged with the embezzlement of SRC International Sdn Bhd instead of the bigger 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that involved billions of dollars.

(MMO) – In an interview with news portal Malaysiakini published today, Thomas said that investigations into the SRC International case were in advanced stages when he was first appointed attorney-general in June 2018, and he chose to proceed with it as the theft of RM42 million were the “easiest to prove”.

He explained that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) have to rely on investigation papers by the relevant authority to decide on prosecution.

He added that the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) had been working on the SRC International case when the AGC was helmed by Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail.

“So imagine the deputy public prosecutors and myself as lawyers looking at documents given by somebody else. In this case, it was the MACC investigations, as opposed to other agencies. MACC said that the file they were working on in the past was SRC International.

“They confirmed the rumours circulating in KL, which was around the time one of my predecessors, Abdul Gani Patail, who was sacked in July 2016 that MACC were quite advanced in investigating SRC, so it was just carrying on that work.

“That was the principal factor – the file came to me. As it turned out, fortuitously, SRC was the easiest to prove, because if you stripped it of everything, it was just a theft of RM42 million. So, it was easy to prove,” Thomas was quoted saying.

He also explained why he decided to enlist the aid of private lawyers instead of using AGC personnel to handle the cases against Najib.

Thomas told the news portal that he had formed two 1MDB teams – one to deal with the criminal cases and the other civil cases – in the first two days as AG.

But as they pored over the documents, he realised that the workload was very heavy and complex, and so he decided it might be better to involve the best specialists in corporate, commercial and financial fraud.

“That was the reason I decided to secure external counsel,” Thomas was quoted saying.

He recalled announcing on August 31, 2018 the appointment of former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah to handle the SRC International cases, and retired judge who had returned to private practice Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram to handle the 1MDB matters.

He also said that there was no opposition in the initial stages as Sulaiman and Sri Ram were both well liked and respected, and acted without fee.

Datuk V. Sithambaram later replaced Sulaiman, who was also pro bono until the case became much more complex and longer than they expected.

Thomas also talked about why the prosecution decided on having daily press conferences by the AG’s office after each proceeding, which was uncommon practice.

“Traditionally, lawyers don’t like to talk about their cases. In fact, there is a prohibition on barristers talking about their cases, certainly in the Bar. But in a national interest case like this [and there was no other case of greater public interest than a former prime minister being charged] the public interest demand was great.

“Secondly, Shafee and his defence team were always holding press conferences, so we thought that if we don’t counteract, they might win the public debate by default. We did not wish to surrender in the court of public opinion,” he was quoted as saying, referring to Najib’s counsel at the time, Tan Sri Shafee Abdullah.

Thomas also said that none of the DPPs wanted to talk at the press conferences, so he stepped up to do the first one, but was criticised for not speaking in Malay and that made it easier not to comment publicly any further.

“Eventually, Sithambaram took over and did it throughout, to give the prosecution’s version of what took place each day, so the media had both. Then it is up to the media to decide what they want. That was what happened.”

When asked on whether there were difficulties in prosecuting a former prime minister and senior politician, Thomas said that they had made it clear that they would treat it like any other case regardless of who the accused was.

“I said this in my opening speech at trial – and every time I talked about it, I emphasised it, which was that Article 8 of the Federal Constitution is relevant. Article 8(2) talks about the equality of all Malaysians – and foreigners who live in Malaysia – being treated equally before the law.

“And once you accept that, and it is fundamental to our case and throughout our preparation and to our presentation, he is no different from any other accused. He and his lawyers may have talked about entitlement and other rights, but as far as we were concerned, he was just like any other accused,” he told the news portal.

Thomas also said that he was given a free hand to prosecute, without any political pressure.