KUALA LUMPUR: The next spotlight for the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) saga will be the intense battle of the legal eagles.
Top-notch lawyers are being recruited by the parties involved as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad pushes the controversy further by telling the New York Times in an interview on Thursday that “enough evidence” has been gathered to charge former premier Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
The Government has recently appointed Tommy Thomas as the Attorney General, who was given the job with the 1MDB case in mind.
He has extensive experience in commercial and asset recovery cases in Malaysia, and has been singled out consistently and regularly as one of Malaysia’s leading litigation lawyers by independent international publications such as The Asia Pacific Legal 500.
With over 40 years experience as a corporate and commercial lawyer, as well as being involved in landmark cases on corporate debts and asset recovery, such as acting for the Securities Commission against Swisscash, a worldwide Ponzi scheme that was hatched in Malaysia, Thomas is seen by many as the right man for the job.
Also on the prosecution team is former attorney general Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, who co-heads the special task force investigating 1MDB.
Abdul Gani is believed to have been removed from his post in 2015 as he was preparing to charge Najib.
Abdul Gani, the country’s eighth attorney general, has handled several high-profile prosecution cases, including graft charges against former Sabah chief minister Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan in 1993 and led the prosecution team in the corruption and attempted sodomy case against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Sukma Darmawan Sasmitaat Madja as well as the Al-Ma’unah attempted revolt in 1998.
Abdul Gani has also led a seven-member panel in the case involving 30 individuals facing charges of waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and various terrorism activities in Lahad Datu, Sabah, in February 2013.
As for Najib, several lawyers have come and gone in the past few weeks but the former prime minister has assembled a formidable US-based legal team, led by former US attorney general John Ashcroft, who served under the George W. Bush administration from 2001 to 2005.
Ashcroft Law Firm registered Najib as a client on the United States Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) register.
FARA requires agents representing the interests of foreign powers to disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances.
In a search, Najib’s name appeared on the FARA register as a “foreign principal”, with Ashcroft Law Firm named as the “registrant” in two exhibits dated March 28 and 29 this year.
The document also disclosed that the services provided by Ashcroft Law Firm was financed by a “foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal”.
Ashcroft is known for handling high-profile international cases involving global players, including representing the government of Qatar to rebut accusations from US President Donald Trump and its Arab neighbours that it supports terrorism, as reported by Reuters.
According to Reuters’ sources, another US lawyer in the team is star litigator David Boies, who specialises in anti-trust cases, including acting for the US government in its case against IT giant Microsoft and aided fallen financiers that included AIG’s Hank Greenberg and Enron’s Andy Fastow.
At one point, he also represented Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein against sexual abuse allegations last year.
The same sources claimed that another top American lawyer, Matthew Schwartz, is also part of Najib’s legal team.
Schwartz, an experienced prosecutor in New York, has handled several high-profile cases including the investigation into ponzi king Bernie Madoff.
Schwartz, who is in private practice now, was named Prosecutor of the Year by Federal Law Enforcement Foundation in 2013.
Rosmah has opted for local counsel – Datuk K. Kumaraendran and Datuk Geethan Ram Vincent.
They accompanied Rosmah while she was questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) earlier this month.
Kumaraendran is experienced in cases involving cheating and bribery, including representing a “Tan Sri” in connection with an alleged RM2mil bribe offer to the Sultan of Johor, as well as a senior lawyer who was charged in the Sessions Court here with cheating and embezzling his client’s money over a RM9.05mil land deal.
Geethan is known for representing former Kuala Lumpur CID chief Senior Asst Comm Datuk Ku Chin Wah, who was charged and later acquitted of allegedly failing to declare all his sources of income five years ago.
As for Low Taek Jho – the central figure wanted over the 1MDB investigations – he has surrounded himself with lawyers although his legal team has not been made known yet.
However, he has engaged the services of US and English lawyer Robin Rathmell as a spokesman.
Rathmell recently e-mailed MACC, seeking a meeting in Dubai.
Rathmell, attached to New York-based firm Kobre & Kim that specialises in cross-border investigations and disputes, regularly represents institutions and high nett-worth individuals in international litigation relating to assets involving allegations of fraud, money laundering or misconduct.
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