Who is Sulaiman Abdullah, lead prosecutor in Najib’s RM42m case?

Ida Lim


72-year-old Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah brings with him 49 years of experience in the legal field. — Picture by Yusof Mat I

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 — Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah has been appointed as lead prosecutor in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial next year over RM42 million linked to a former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) subsidiary, but what else do we know of this veteran lawyer?

The 72-year-old Penangite brings with him 49 years of experience in the legal field. He had his early education at the SK Wellesley, SK Francis Light and the Penang Free School, all in Penang.

He graduated with a law degree from the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore) in 1969 and started his practice the same year.

Sulaiman also holds a masters’ degree in law from University of London (1979) and a diploma in Syariah Law and Practice from the International Islamic University Malaysia (1992) and was a Universiti Malaya law lecturer (1973-1984).

Sulaiman was formerly the Malaysian Bar secretary (1993-1995) and also its president (2000 to 2001), and has been a member of its governing body, the Bar Council, for substantial periods since 1989.

In the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis where the Pakatan Rakyat-led state government collapsed, Sulaiman acted as the lead counsel for Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin who sought to reclaim his position as Perak mentri besar.

Despite an initial win for Nizar in the High Court, the Court of Appeal eventually ruled that Nizar’s Barisan Nasional rival Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir was the lawful mentri besar. The Federal Court unanimously upheld in February 2010 the decision against Nizar.

While Attorney General (AG) Tommy Thomas yesterday announced Sulaiman as a leading lawyer with substantial experience in criminal law including on white-collar crimes, Sulaiman had also in recent years represented state or the federal territories’ Islamic bodies in high-profile cases.

They include Lina Joy’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to omit the word “Islam” from her identity card, the Catholic Church’s challenge of the “Allah” word ban in their internal newsletter, three Negri Sembilan transgenders’ unsuccessful constitutional challenge of an anti-crossdressing Shariah state law and also a Johor couple’s bid to remove the illegitimacy tag of “bin Abdullah” from their son’s name.

After retiring at the age of 66 on February 16, 2010, Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram returned to practice the same month as a lawyer. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

More about Gopal Sri Ram

As for Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who was yesterday announced as leading the prosecution in deciding and pursuing charges tied to the 1MDB scandal that is still being probed, the 74-year-old’s career spans 48 years comprising of 32 years as a lawyer and 16 years as a judge.

Like the AG, Sri Ram is an alumnus of the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur, he got his law degree from Lincoln’s Inn, the UK in July 1969, before starting his career as a criminal lawyer in Malaysia after being called to the Bar in May 1970.

Just months after the Court of Appeal was established, Sri Ram was appointed directly as judge at the appellate court on September 17, 1994 — the first lawyer to receive such an appointment without first serving as a judicial commissioner or judge at the High Court.

Delivering much-cited judgements throughout his time in the judiciary, Sri Ram had ruled in favour of Thai national Boonsom Boonyanit’s appeal over her land that was fraudulently sold off (1997), and was the sole dissenting judge in two high-profile cases, that of Lina Joy (2005) where the other judges rejected her bid for the word “Islam” to be omitted from her identity card and non-Muslim mother R. Subashini (2007) who was told by the other judges to go to the Shariah courts to prevent her Muslim convert husband’s unilateral conversion of her son.

Less than a year before he was due to retire, Sri Ram was elevated to be a Federal Court judge on April 15, 2009.

After retiring at the age of 66 on February 16, 2010, Sri Ram returned to practice the same month as a lawyer, initially acting as a consultant in a law firm before opening up his own law firm in November 2014.

Although he has been lauded by the Malaysian Bar in 2005 for his “brilliant explosive and unconventional judgments” and compared in legal circles to the famous UK judge Lord Denning, Sri Ram had in an 2010 post-retirement interview modestly downplayed the comparison.

Sri Ram’s first appearance on July 18, 2013 in the Federal Court as a lawyer sparked debate, but he later showed up again at the apex court on October 28, 2014 to lead PKR politician Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s defence team in the Sodomy II case.

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