Incompetence of Najib’s previous counsel tainted final appeal, Shafee tells court

(The Star) – The defence of Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the Federal Court final appeal was tainted with incompetency of the former prime minister’s former counsel, says his lawyer.

Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah claimed that the previous solicitor, Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners (ZIST), had never done criminal law in their career, especially complicated cases such as the SRC International Sdn Bhd case.

Despite this, ZIST was appointed to replace Muhammad Shafee’s Messrs Shafee & Co with the assurance that the Federal Court would give them reasonable time to prepare before the main appeal hearing.

“The applicant had believed and trusted the advice provided (by ZIST),” Muhammad Shafee said here on Thursday (Jan 19).

The lawyer did not mince his words as he made his submission at the hearing of Najib’s application at the Federal Court to have Najib’s conviction and sentence in the SRC International case reviewed.

According to Muhammad Shafee, Najib’s legal fiasco during the final appeal began after the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed his application to have Queen’s Counsel Jonathan Laidlaw on July 21 and 22.

Laidlaw is a UK-based lawyer who sought to be admitted ad hoc in the High Court of Malaya for him to be able to represent Najib in the Federal Court appeal.

In his written submission, Muhammad Shafee said it was after this event that Najib was then approached and advised by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who is a partner at ZIST and a former minister in Najib’s Cabinet during Najib’s premiership.

He said Najib had replaced his firm, Messrs Shafee & Co, upon the advice of Zaid and Zaid’s Singaporean partner Niru Pillai.

“Zaid informed the applicant (Najib) that he, with the help of several other leading lawyers from India and Singapore, would be able to provide a new perspective in dealing with the final appeal in the Federal Court,” Muhammad Shafee said.

“Najib was given virtually a guarantee by the lawyer and solicitor that an adjournment would be granted for them to study the matter and submit during the final appeal,” he added.

On the advice of ZIST, Najib then appointed Datuk Hisyam Teh Poh Teik to be the new lead counsel, who had echoed the same sentiment about the good prospect of getting an adjournment in view of having a new law firm on board.

“But Hisyam came in with no clue what it’s all about, given the 179 volumes of just the appeal records alone,” Muhammad Shafee said.

Hisyam had asked for an adjournment of between three and four months to allow him to make the best preparations for the main appeal because he had just taken over the case.

“It is imperative to note that the prosecution themselves did not object to the adjournment application.

“It is therefore mind boggling for the Federal Court not to grant this adjournment between three and four months to enable the new solicitors and counsel to be effectively prepared,” Muhammad Shafee said.

He questioned the Federal Court’s speed in which it undertook to complete the appeal and to deliver a verdict.

“He (Hisyam) asked for one adjournment. Why are we in a hurry?” he added.

The hearing continues on Feb 20 before a five-judge panel chaired by Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Abdul Rahman Sebli.

Other judges were Federal Court judges Justices Vernon Ong Lam Kiat, Rhodzariah Bujang, Nordin Hassan and Court of Appeal judge Justice Abu Bakar Jais.

Najib is seeking to review the Federal Court’s decision of Aug 23, 2022 which upholds the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision to convict and sentence him to 12 years in jail and a RM210mil fine in the RM42mil SRC International case.

On Sept 6, last year, he applied for a review of the Federal Court’s decision, claiming a “miscarriage of justice” in his case.