PETALING JAYA: The decision by those implicated in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal to rope in foreign top-notch legal eagles could indicate a multi-jurisdiction legal battle ahead, say local legal experts.
It was reported that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had engaged the services of Ashcroft Law Firm headed by former US attorney general John Ashcroft, top US corporate lawyer David Boies and prosecutor-turned-private defence lawyer Matthew Schwartz.
Meanwhile, businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, has been linked to British lawyer Robin Rathmell after the lawyer issued a statement on his behalf earlier this month.
Veteran lawyer Datuk Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin said Malaysian lawyers could be hired at the same time, to form a multi-jurisdictional legal team.
“However, if for example someone is taking advice only on US law for an issue with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), there is no issue of Malaysian law there,” he told The Star.
Firoz, who is with international network Zico Law, had represented Najib in a separate 1MDB matter in 2015 when the then-prime minister mulled filing a defamation suit in Malaysia against the Wall Street Journal over two articles on 1MDB.
Firoz clarified that he was not involved with the latest case involving the DOJ investigation and was not privy to Najib’s legal strategy.
He pointed out that lawyers were sometimes hired to contribute to parts of an overall strategy based on their experience, especially those famous for representing high-profile cases.
He added that the retainer fees for such firms could vary immensely based on their degree of involvement.
Bar Council chairman George Varughese said it was Najib and Low’s right under the Federal Constitution to seek legal counsel.
“Both are entitled to engage and consult any lawyer, local or foreign, of their choice. It is not unusual to engage foreign firms especially when a matter may also involve issues in foreign jurisdictions or foreign laws, even if it is rooted in Malaysia,” he said.
However, he added that a foreign lawyer was only able to act in Malaysian courts if they were able to meet the strict requirements of the Legal Profession Act 1976 and obtain an order for an ad hoc admission to the Bar.
As part of such an application, the foreign practitioners would need to inform the Bar and Attorney General’s Chambers first, so they can either support or object to the application.
Varughese confirmed that the Bar had not yet received any such application.
Such applications rarely succeed, as in the case of human rights lawyer Cherie Blair, the wife of then British prime minister Tony Blair who was denied by the Federal Court from acting on behalf of a local company against the Malaysian Government in 2006.
More recently, Australian Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Robertson was allowed to represent Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and its president Datuk Yong Teck Lee in a defamation case in Sabah in 2015.
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