PETALING JAYA: The government will be represented by two of the best legal brains when the state takes on counsel representing those charged with offences related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, lawyers said.
They said Sulaiman Abdullah and Gopal Sri Ram brought with them a wealth of experience and knowledge to handle the cases with decorum and ethics.
The lawyers said the rakyat could be rest assured that the prosecution would be conducted fairly and effectively.
Lawyer S N Nair said Sulaiman was a fearless, reputable criminal and civil lawyer with a sharp intellect and an impeccable legal mind.
“He speaks his mind as he sees fit in court. The man is a stickler for details and I have benefitted immensely from him in my legal training as a rookie lawyer,” said Nair who worked with Sulaiman in the defence of Anwar Ibrahim who was charged with sodomy in 1998.
As for Sri Ram, Nair said his prowess in law was equally formidable – both on the Bench and the Bar.
“His judgments whilst on the Bench speak volumes of his ability as a criminal and civil lawyer,” Nair said, adding that any defence lawyer, including Muhammad Shafee Abdullah who leads Najib Razak’s defence, would have their hands full.
He said the stakes were very high as the government would lose its credibility should its prosecutors fail to secure convictions against accused persons.
Nair said this in response to the surprise move by Attorney-General (AG) Tommy Thomas to appoint Sulaiman and Sri Ram as ad-hoc prosecutors to handle these cases, which will attract global media attention.
Sri Ram is a retired Federal Court judge and is back in legal practice while Sulaiman, a former law lecturer, has appeared in several public interest cases.
Thomas announced yesterday that he was stepping aside as lead prosecutor in the trial of former prime minister Najib and in the preparation of the 1MDB case and was, instead, appointing the two senior lawyers to do this.
Sulaiman will lead the prosecution team in the trial of Najib who is facing criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering charges.
The charges are related to the RM42 million allegedly deposited into his personal bank accounts from SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of 1MDB but now placed under the finance ministry.
Najib will face trial from Feb 12 to March 29 next year.
Sri Ram has been appointed senior deputy public prosecutor to spearhead the process of studying investigation papers , drafting charges and prosecuting any accused charged with 1MDB-related offences.
Thomas said he had come to realise he could not combine his “onerous commitments” as AG and public prosecutor – as he had to handle many and varied responsibilities as the chief legal officer in an administration undertaking various reforms – and prosecute the case as well.
Lawyer N Sivananthan said the appointments were an extremely positive development and the AG must be congratulated for being magnanimous in making this decision.
“The government now has the benefit of having the finest legal minds to guide it in this rather complicated and unique prosecution that it is faced with,” he said.
Sivananthan, who had in the past urged the AG to consider appointing lawyers, said Thomas’s decision effectively introduced an independent and impartial decision making process.
He said the AG could make any decision on representations made by accused persons to drop or reduce charges without being in a position of conflict.
Sivananthan said the special licence given to Sulaiman and Sri Ram also removed the concerns of any conflict on the part of deputy public prosecutors in the present team who might have been privy to the previous decision making process to exonerate Najib.
Lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said the complex SRC and 1MDB scandal, which had engulfed the nation, had crystallised into a full-blown criminal proceeding against Najib and others.
“This will be a trial which will put Malaysia in the spotlight. Therefore. the nation’s best legal brains must be allowed to represent the government to ensure the prosecution presents water tight cases, as well as to ensure a fair trial,” he said.
Rafique said the two senior lawyers were doing a national service in not charging the government any legal fee.
He said the duo’s legal knowledge and advocacy skills were an advantage as they would also be able to read the defence’s manoeuvres and even possible questionable tactics.