AG picks private lawyer, ex-judge to prosecute Najib, 1MDB-linked cases

Ida Lim
Thomas said the appointment of lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah to lead prosecutors in Najib’s trial next year was necessary as the AG felt he would not be able to handle the case and his other responsibilities simultaneously. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — A senior private lawyer and a former judge-turned-lawyer were appointed to separately lead the prosecution of ex-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and cases tied to the 1MDB scandal, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas announced today.

Thomas said the appointment of lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah to lead prosecutors in Najib’s trial next year was necessary as the AG felt he would not be able to handle the case and his other responsibilities simultaneously.

“Datuk Sulaiman is one of the nation’s leading barristers, having substantial experience in criminal law, including white collar crime.

“His eloquence is unmatched, and his intellect second to none. Datuk Sulaiman has impeccable integrity, and is a principled lawyer,” he said in a statement today.

“Datuk Sulaiman has generously agreed to waive all fees, and is content to provide his services to the nation on a ‘pro bono’ basis,” he added, when explaining that the lawyer would be providing free service.

Thomas pointed out that Najib’s trial — involving seven criminal charges of criminal breach of trust, power abuse and money-laundering offences over RM42 million linked to former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd — would take up seven weeks from February 12 to March 29.

“A trial of this importance and complexity requires the full-time attention of lead counsel, not just during the duration of the trial, but also in the months leading to the trial, followed by the preparation of detailed written submissions after the trial.

“Unfortunately, the demands of equally urgent and pressing matters of state do not permit me the time required to focus on this prosecution,” he said earlier in the statement, when explaining why he had decided to exercise his discretion under Section 379 of the Criminal Procedure Code to appoint Sulaiman.

Citing his experience in his nearly first three months of the demands of the offices of the AG and Public Prosecutor together with the varied and multitasked requirements of the chief legal officer in a government that is undertaking reforms, Thomas said he has realised that he could not combine such “onerous commitments with the simultaneous preparation and conduct” of the seven-week trial.

As for the 1MDB matter, Thomas said the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and police have yet to submit the investigation papers (except for one) to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).

Noting that the AGC will have to study and prepare charges and prosecute the alleged accused in trials after receiving the 1MDB investigation papers, Thomas said he has appointed retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram to lead the process.

“In order to spearhead this entire process, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram as Senior Deputy Public Prosecutor pursuant to Section 376 (3) of the CPC,” he said, referring to the former judge who is back to actively practising as a lawyer.

Thomas said Sri Ram has “substantial experience in criminal law matters”, adding: “His strong and determined personality will no doubt enhance the investigation and prosecution in all matters pertaining to the 1MDB scandal.”

The former judge will also be acting pro bono, he said.

“With the twin appointments of the leading lights in the Malaysian Bar, our commitment to prosecuting those responsible for the greatest kleptocracy in the history of the world with the gravity that it deserves, and that ordinary Malaysians expect, cannot be doubted,” Thomas added.

Prosecution in criminal cases typically falls to the AG or his deputies, but this is not the first high-profile case in which a private lawyer was appointed to head the team.

The most recent previous incident was the appointment of prominent private lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah as a deputy public prosecutor by fiat to lead the prosecution team against Datuk Seri Anwar in the PKR politician’s Sodomy II case at the Court of Appeal and subsequently, the Federal Court.

Shafee currently leads Najib’s defence team in the criminal cases tied to the RM42 million sum.

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