PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal was told that a judge who lacked experience in criminal cases had presided over the "case of the century" involving former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was convicted of the misappropriation of RM42mil from SRC International Sdn Bhd.
This was submitted by Najib's lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah before a three-man bench chaired by Court of Appeal judge Justice Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, on the first day hearing of the appeal by Najib against his conviction and sentence here on Monday (April 5).
“At the last minute, they appointed a judge who had no experience in criminal trial, ” Muhammad Shafee said.
The lawyer, who has more than 40 years' experience as a former deputy public prosecutor and lawyer, said in his experience, complex criminal cases would be heard before experienced judges.
In late July 2018, news broke that Justice Mohd Sofian Abd Razak, who was supposed to preside over the SRC International case, was transferred to a New Civil Court effective Aug 1.
Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, formerly of the commercial division, took over Mohd Sofian's place at criminal High Court 3 and thus presided over the SRC International case.
He convicted Najib of the charges after a full trial on July 28 last year.
In his submissions, Muhammad Shafee cited high-profile cases including the graft case of former Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Harun Idris in 1977 and former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who faced charges of sodomy and abuse of power in 1999.
Muhammad Shafee said those cases had experienced judges presiding over them and Justice Mohd Nazlan had made "errors" in the SRC International case.
"This case (SRC International) was the case of the century. But Justice Mohd Sofian was transferred out and Justice Mohd Nazlan was brought in," he added.
Justice Abdul Karim then urged Muhammad Shafee to put in his submissions on where the trial judge had made errors.
Earlier, at the start of the proceedings, the Court of Appeal dismissed Najib's application to adjourn the hearing.
The bench was unanimous in its decision that there was "no sufficient reason" to warrant an adjournment.
Muhammad Shafee had requested a one-month adjournment to put in additional evidence in the defence submission.
The defence wanted to obtain relevant documents - said to be linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and involving allegations against former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz - from New York and Singapore.
Ad hoc prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram objected to this, saying that the defence should have made its request well in advance of the appeal.
"There is no application pending. This is actually another way of seeking an adjournment on non-valid grounds," Sithambaram added.
Najib's defence team has submitted 307 grounds in his petition of appeal on why he should be cleared of the charges.
Among the grounds mentioned in the petition is that he had failed to get a fair and just trial in the case.
On July 28 last year, the High Court sentenced Najib to 10 years’ jail on each of the three counts of CBT as well as each of the three counts of money laundering.
Najib was also sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and handed a RM210mil fine, in default five years’ jail, in the case of abuse of position.
Najib, 68, is currently out on bail of RM2mil in two sureties pending appeal.
The appeal hearing continues before the panel tomorrow (April 6).
Other judges on the bench were Justices Has Zanah Mehat and Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera.