Hearing of Najib's SRC case set to start after Federal Court lifts stay

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PUTRAJAYA (March 27): The Federal Court today set aside the stay order granted by the Court of Appeal last week to temporarily halt former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak's trial involving RM42 million of SRC International Sdn Bhd funds.

With the decision by the seven-member bench led by Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, Najib's trial for alleged criminal breach of trust and abuse of power may start soon.

"We (the court) are unanimous that the Court of Appeal has no jurisdiction to grant a stay of proceedings (in this criminal trial). We set aside the Court of Appeal's decision.

"The court remits the case to the High Court forthwith," Malanjum said in the unanimous decision.

The seven-member bench also dismissed an oral application made by Najib's counsel Havinderjit Singh for a stay of the trial by the Federal Court.

Attorney General Tommy Thomas later clarified with the bench that it would be upon the prosecution to fix a case management date with High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.

He had earlier indicated to the bench during the proceedings of the appeal that should the prosecution's appeal be allowed, he wants the apex court to direct the High Court to fix this Friday as the case management date.

Lawyer and appointed prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram told reporters that the prosecution will write to the court now to fix a case management date.

"It could be tomorrow or Friday but Justice Nazlan had earlier fixed Wednesday (April 3) for case management. We will inform you (the press)," he said.

Sithambaram explained further the decision today meant that in criminal proceedings and before the start of a trial, the appellate court cannot grant a stay of the proceedings if the appeals had been disposed of.

The prosecution is appealing over the stay of Najib's trial granted by the appellate court on March 21, after it dismissed three of the former premier's appeal and allowed one.

The appeal that was allowed was for the prosecution to show the certificate of appointment of senior lawyer and former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah as a prosecutor.

The Court of Appeal, however, dismissed Najib's appeal to get further documents from the prosecution, for a pre-emptive gag order on the media barring them from carrying comments over the case and the transfer of the case from the Sessions Court to the High Court following the withdrawal of the Section 418A of the Criminal Procedure Code certificate.

Nazlan had several months back fixed Feb 12 to March 29 for the trial on the SRC case before the appeals made by Najib.

Sitting with Malanjum today were Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk David Wong Dak Wah, and Federal Court judges Tan Sri Ramly Ali, Datuk Rohana Yusof, Datuk Mohd Zawawi Mohd Salleh and Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.

Normally, in appeals at the apex court, a five-member bench is constituted. It is rare to see a seven-member bench sit.

The apex court also was told that the hearing of the appeals of the March 21 Court of Appeal decisions has now been fixed on Thursday (April 4th).

Thomas in his submission today said there has been a practice directive issued by the court that the criminal trials should start within 90 days after a person is charged and that the public is looking and interested to see the start of the trial.

"It has been seven months since Najib was charged last July 4 and the whole world is watching this case as the trial should have already started," he said, adding that appellate court should not have granted the stay of proceedings order.

"You can give a stay of proceedings in civil cases but not criminal cases as in criminal trials it involves only the state and the accused person. Unlike in civil proceedings one can be given a stay to maintain status quo until the appeal is heard and in this case, we say one cannot apply a stay in a criminal hearing," the AG said.

Havinderjit told the court the delay is not the fault of the defence, as the prosecution decided to withdraw the Section 418A certificate earlier this year, and the prosecution have continued to serve documents to them even until March 19.

"This shows the prosecution themselves are not prepared to start the trial as they keep handing pre-trial documents to us. It is not the defence that is delaying the trial," he added.

Earlier, during the start of today's proceeding Havinderjit sought an adjournment in the hearing of the prosecution's appeal as lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah is away in Sydney to attend a criminal case and he also made a preliminary objection to the appeal.

Thomas in reply said the trial has been fixed earlier until March 29, and Shafee should have been here to represent Najib and not go to Australia where he is not even a barrister to advise his Malaysian client there.

Malanjum then dismissed the applications for the adjournment and also the preliminary objection.

Najib has claimed trial to seven counts of CBT and abuse of power in relation to RM42 million of SRC International funds, a former subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The funds are alleged to have been deposited into his personal accounts.