PUTRAJAYA: Najib Razak lost his bid to disqualify Gopal Sri Ram from acting as the ad hoc prosecutor in the former prime minister’s ongoing 1MDB audit report tampering trial after the Federal Court dismissed his appeal today.
A three-member bench chaired by Justice Vernon Ong upheld Sri Ram’s competence to conduct the trial on behalf of the prosecution.
The apex court had ruled that the country’s superior courts, namely the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court, have inherent jurisdiction to disqualify a lawyer or a deputy public prosecutor from appearing in a criminal case.
However, the court said there was no evidence to support Najib’s contention that Sri Ram had participated in investigations conducted prior to the charges being brought.
“There was also no sufficient evidence produced that Sri Ram was biased towards Najib,” said Ong, who sat with justices Zabariah Yusof and Hasnah Hashim.
The judge also said that on the facts of the case, Justice Zaini Mazlan was entitled to accept Sri Ram’s factual account over that of former attorney-general Apandi Ali’s.
Najib was present when the ruling was announced to a packed courtroom.
Zaini is scheduled to rule on Jan 30 whether Najib must enter his defence for abuse of his powers as prime minister and finance minister in February 2016.
He is charged with using his position to order amendments to 1MDB’s final audit report before it was presented to the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament to avoid action being taken against him.
Former 1MDB president and CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy is charged with abetting Najib.
Sri Ram, now a practising lawyer, was appointed ad hoc prosecutor in August 2018 by then attorney-general Tommy Thomas.
Najib’s initial complaint was that Sri Ram’s appointment was tainted by his alleged wrongful interference by agencies authorised by law to carry out the investigations.
He subsequently claimed that Sri Ram was tainted with bias and a conflict of interest because of conversations he allegedly had with Apandi and text messages exchanged between them.
Najib’s application to recuse Sri Ram was filed in 2020, supported by two affidavits, one filed by the former prime minister and the other by Apandi.
Apandi’s affidavit alleged that Sri Ram had conveyed to him a demand from then opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad for Najib to be arrested for an unspecified offence in January 2018.
Najib also referred to a WhatsApp conversation between Sri Ram and Apandi which allegedly demonstrated bias on Sri Ram’s part when calling for Apandi to charge the former prime minister.
He claimed that Sri Ram was involved in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigations into 1MDB which caused the prosecutor to prejudge Najib’s culpability in the matter.
Sri Ram, together with deputy public prosecutors Ahmad Akram Gharib and Mustaffa Kunyalam, represented the attorney-general, while Shafee Abdullah represented Najib.