Najib loses court bid to stop Gopal Sri Ram prosecuting 1MDB cases

Najib Razak had challenged then attorney-general Tommy Thomas’ decision to appoint Gopal Sri Ram as deputy public prosecutor in 1MDB-related cases.

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court here today dismissed the legal challenges by Najib Razak and his lawyer to stop Gopal Sri Ram prosecuting them in their 1MDB-related cases.

Judge Mariana Yahya ruled that Sri Ram was a fit and proper person to lead the 1MDB cases.

“The court views GSR’s (Gopal Sri Ram) appointment by the AG (attorney-general) as being legal and valid,” she said.

Former AG Tommy Thomas had in 2018 announced that Sri Ram, a former judge, would be heading the prosecution in 1MDB-linked cases.

Mariana said she agreed with senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan’s contention that nothing under Section 376(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code stated that the AG could only appoint a senior deputy public prosecutor or from among civil servants in the judicial and legal services.

Addressing the contention that Sri Ram must be a full time civil servant in order to be a senior DPP, Mariana said Section 376(3) did not impose such criteria.

“I agree with AGC and I must stress that the government can choose any advocate and solicitor to represent it in any court of law.

“It is not open for the accused person to suggest to the government not to appoint the said lawyer,” Mariana said.

The court also cited an appeals court’s decision in Anwar Ibrahim’s case, where the opposition leader sought to question lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah’s appointment in leading his 2014 Sodomy 2 appeal.

“The court previously held that Tan Sri’s (Shafee) appointment was the sole discretion of the AG and no party can usurp such decision,” she said, adding both Najib and Shafee could not now take a different view.

On Najib and Shafee’s argument that Sri Ram’s appointment needed to be gazetted, Mariana said there was no statutory requirement for the gazetting to be done.

Mariana noted that this had not been done when Shafee was appointed to prosecute in Anwar’s case too.

On Najib and Shafee’s contention that Sri Ram was biased and had acted in conflict of interest over the 1MDB cases, the judge said this was an “issue raised at the 11th hour”.

“The applicants moved the court to use former AG Mohamed Apandi Ali’s affidavit filed in another criminal case to show GSR was not a fit person.

“The fact that they filed a second disqualification in the criminal case shows that this should be determined before the criminal court as their judicial reviews were confined to Section 376(3),” Mariana added.

The court awarded RM20,000 in costs to the government.

After the decision, Shafee said he had been instructed to file an appeal for Najib, adding he would appeal his own case too.

Najib is challenging Thomas’ decision to appoint Sri Ram as deputy public prosecutor under Section 376. He claims that Sri Ram’s appointment is a conflict of interest.

Shafee has also filed a similar application to recuse Sri Ram from leading the prosecution in his own RM9.5 million money laundering case. He is facing four money laundering charges over alleged funds from Najib.

Sri Ram is currently leading the prosecution team in the 1MDB case where Najib is standing trial on 25 money laundering and abuse of power charges amounting to RM2.28 billion.

He is also spearheading the prosecution in the 1MDB audit report case, where Najib is accused of abusing his powers in causing amendments to the report’s finalised version before it was tabled to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy is accused of abetting Najib.