More legal drama to unfold in 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: 2017 is poised to be an interesting year of legal drama in Malaysian courtrooms.

The case that will arguably get the most attention is the corruption trial of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, scheduled to take place over 34 days between March and July next year.

The prosecution team is expected to call more than 60 witnesses before Penang High Court judge Justice Hadhariah Syed Ismail to prove the case against Lim.

There are 35 volumes of documents related to the case – comprising over 13,000 pages – to be perused during the trial. Lim, 56, has been charged with obtaining gratification for himself and his wife Betty Chew by approving the conversion of two lots of agricultural land belonging to Magnificent Emblem for residential development while chairing a state planning committee meeting on July 18, 2014.

The DAP politician has also claimed trial to another charge of using his position to obtain gratification by purchasing his house in Pinhorn Road from businesswoman Phang Li Koon at RM2.8mil, which was below the property's market value of RM4.27mil on July 28, 2015. Phang, 44, faces an abetment charge for allegedly selling a bungalow in Pinhorn Road to Lim on July 28, 2015 at below its actual market value.

Their cases will be jointly heard.

In Kuala Lumpur, Lim Guan Eng wants to apply to set aside the leave granted to the Attorney-General to initiate contempt of court proceedings against him over his press statements in relation to his graft case. High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) judge Justice Hanipah Farikullah has set March 1 to hear his application.

Apart from that, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has sued several parties over defamation claims. However, one of these suits has been resolved amicably without trial. His lead counsel Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun said that his client wants to defend his reputation after allegedly being slandered by certain quarters. Mohd Hafarizam also said that Najib was a "serious litigant" and was willing to give testimony in court.

Among the suits are the Jan 17 hearing over an application by Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua to strike out the suit against him and an online news portal's owner for allegedly defaming Najib over 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Another High Court has set Jan 26 to hear an application by Najib in his libel suit against former MCA leader Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik. Justice Nor Bee Ariffin will hear an application by the Prime Minister to strike out Ling's statement of defence over the civil claim.

In another court, High Court judge Justice Hue Siew Kheng has set March 9 for case management after Najib failed to settle his libel suit against two top officials of PAS' news organ Harakah. This was to allow two related appeals to be disposed of by the appellate court on March 7.

In this dispute, Najib is now appealing a High Court order which refused his application to dispose of his libel suit based on points of law, without going to trial. Najib is also appealing the refusal of the High Court to allow him to include press statements from the Attorney-General and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing relating to the 1MDB issue.

Najib also sued two defendants over a defamatory article published on the portal in relation to 1MDB fund and Riza Aziz, his stepson. One against Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming was resolved on May 16 when Najib and his wife settled it after Nga expressed his deepest regrets over his Facebook posting alleging abuse of power.

The Prime Minister's press secretary Datuk Seri Tengku Sarifuddin Tengku Ahmad has also applied to the High Court to strike out a defamation suit filed by Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir against him. Mukhriz, 51, sued Tengku Sarifuddin, 54 for implying that he practised "dirty politics". Judicial Commissioner Roslan Abu Bakar has set Jan 6 next year to decide the application.

In another matter, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is applying to get copies of banking statements of the Prime Minister in relation to the RM2.6bil donation issue. Zaid, who is a former Cabinet minister, has started a civil action against AmBank Islamic Bhd to inspect five bank accounts belonging to the Prime Minister and disclose sources of its incoming funds in relation to the donations. Zaid, who named AmBank as the sole respondent, said the information was relevant and material for his other action against the Prime Minister and three others namely, 1MDB, the Government and Najib's stepson Riza Shariz Abdul Aziz.

In addition to these disputes, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and two others filed a lawsuit against the Najib for alleged misfeasance in public office. Najib's bid to strike out this suit is to be heard on Feb 20.

Apart from that, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) will be raising legal standing and constitutional issues in two judicial review bids seeking to declassify the audit report on 1MDB which has been classified as an "official secret". Justice Hanipah Farikullah has set Jan 11 to hear clarifications on issues raised by the parties in the suit.

The Court of Appeal is also expected to hear appeals against the Nov 11 High Court ruling that the Attorney-General (AG) decision not to prosecute the Prime Minister over the RM2.6bil donation cannot be challenged in court.

In an Election Commission case, a High Court has set Jan 3 to hear an application by Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and 10 other registered voters in the constituency for leave to initiate a judicial review challenging the

Election Commission's (EC) proposed redelineation exercise of Parliamentary and state seats in the peninsula.

In a test case, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's four eldest grandchildren are claiming they have been deprived of hugs from the PKR leader.

Anwar's lawsuit against Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Bhd (TV3) and two others for allegedly implying that he had bribed the judiciary is also set to go for a full trial in June next year.

Then there is also Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB)'s legal challenge on its Constitutional right to use the word "Allah". The church wants a clear resolution in this matter saying that they had been using the word in their prayers, sermons, education and songs.

Another High Court has set Jan 20 to hear an application by the Australian government and its tax office (ATO) to strike out a lawsuit by a Malaysian timber tycoon for imposing AUD49mil (RM158mil) tax assessment on him over his income earnings outside Australia. Sir Hii Yii Ann, 56, (who was knighted in 2007) said the decision of the ATO dated Dec 20, 2013 was invalid as he is a Malaysian and has been declaring his tax deductions over his earnings from five countries here.

Besides that, the murder trial of former deputy public prosecutor Datuk Anthony Kevin Morais will continue at the KL High Court on Jan 17. One of the six accused persons charged with his murder have now become a prosecution witness after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of concealing Kevin Morais' body and disposing of his car. A Sessions Court had sentenced the witness, G. Gunasekaran, to two years' jail effective from the date of his arrest on Sept 15, 2015, for the offence.

Army pathologist Kol Dr R. Kunaseegaran, 53, is charged with abetting the six in the murder of the 55-year-old prosecutor in September last year.

There are also several Islamic State-related cases in the court process. A recent case involved Fazar Nor Md Reduan, an insurance runner, who claimed trial to supporting the commission of a terrorist act and having items related to the IS. His case will be mentioned at the High Court on Jan 23.

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