Riza Aziz fails in bid to transfer case to High Court

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 24, 2019.
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KUALA LUMPUR: The trial of Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, stepson of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for five money laundering charges involving US$248.17 million (RM1.18 billion) allegedly misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) will remain in the Sessions Court.

Riza Aziz’s application to transfer his case to the High Court was dismissed by Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, ruling that the Sessions Court is more than competent to handle the case.

After hearing both parties, the judge viewed that it would not prejudice Riza Aziz if the case remains in the Sessions Court.

When delivering his oral judgement, Justice Mohd Nazlan said Riza Aziz must show the question of law is truly and exceptionally difficult to succeed under Section 417(1)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

This case concerns charges under Section 4(1) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (Amlatfa) but charges under the same section are regularly tried in the Sessions Courts — not just in Kuala Lumpur but also in other parts of the country, he added.

“Sessions Courts’ judges are no less competent and in this case are very experienced to try the case against the applicant (Riza Aziz). They are able to deal with other possible complex issues concerning the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 2002, Evidence Act 1950 and the Federal Constitution,” the judge said.

He said there are no concerns about the principle of equality before the law since the real issue is to comply with the prerequisites of Section 417 of the CPC which must be established first.

He further said the difference in the forum of the trial does not cause any prejudice to the applicant.

“It has not been shown how the trial in the Sessions Court would not result in a fair and objective trial for the accused (Riza Aziz). This is based on the transfer application made under Section 417 [of the CPC] that it would be expedient in the ends of justice [which] is not sustainable because it is not expedient in the ends of justice if a transfer does not promote judicial efficiency and causes a delay in the commencement trials,” he stressed.

Justice Mohd Nazlan added that the trial dates for this case had been fixed by the Sessions Court.

For those reasons, the judge dismissed Riza Aziz’s application to transfer his case to the High Court. It was previously reported that Sessions Court Judge Rozina Ayob had fixed Jan 6 to 14 next year for the trial of the case.

Riza Aziz is accused of receiving the 1MDB-linked funds through the bank accounts of Hollywood production house Red Granite Productions Inc, which he co-founded and was itself charged in the US for misappropriating monies from the investment fund between April 12, 2011 and Nov 14, 2012.

The funds were transferred from the Swiss accounts of Good Star Ltd — linked to fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) — and Aabar Investments PJS Ltd to Red Granite’s accounts in the US and Singapore.

Each charge, filed under Section 4(1)(a) of the Amlatfa, carries a maximum five years’ jail and/or a maximum RM5 million fine.

Najib is also facing charges concerning 1MDB, while his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor has been charged with receiving kickbacks for a solar hybrid project involving rural schools in Sarawak.

Riza Aziz’s counsels Datuk Hariharan Tara Singh and Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had asked for the case to be transferred as it involves complex issues, as other complex cases such as the SRC International Sdn Bhd, 1MDB trial and other related cases were moved to the High Court.

However, the prosecution, led by former federal court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, objected, stressing that the Sessions Court judge, with over 10 years of experience, is more than competent to handle the case.

This is a simple case where all the issues involved can be settled by the senior Sessions Court judge with ease, Sri Ram added.