One wonders which political consideration made December 8th such a bad day for Najib’s long-delayed Appeal Court ruling into his bold request that a crushing conviction on corruption charges be overturned?
Might it upset the delicate budget MOU, strong-armed on the opposition parties by Malaysia’s interventionist King?
Or could it interfere with the one-sided campaigning during the Sarawak elections, where opposition parties can barely move on the ground but Najib is doubtless planning to helicopter the skies, playing the glamorous ‘Catch Me If You Can’ hero? Naturally, the ongoing excuse of his pregnant daughter was the one used – she can only give birth in Singapore and her father apparently must be there.
What is certain is that no other convict on the planet has ever had the sheer brass neck and smug confidence to order a request that a judgement by a Court of Appeal should be postponed for his convenience.
The judges have slapped him and his cheeky lawyer down. However, don’t expect this to be the end of it as Shafee will already be trying other tactics – the slippery fellow has achieved outrageous indulgences, including the postponement of his own serious corruption cases for years on the grounds he is representing Najib,
What the tussle shows is that behind the scenes a battle royal must be raging as the UMNO political establishment, who engineered a coup two years ago to reverse an election defeat, has set about seeking to reverse the conviction of their world famous leading kleptocrat.
It was only on Monday that Sarawak Report drew attention to the scale of the inordinate delay in producing the judgement on this appeal a full fifteen months following the conviction of the former prime minster.
We pointed out that in other countries a judicial decision on a matter of such magnitude for the stability of the country would have been expedited in weeks if not days. We also for the first time revealed the concerns in judicial circles that the King has been sought to bring his influence to bear on this naked attempt by politicians to pressure the judiciary to let off a wealthy kleptocrat.
The response was immediate. Within less than 24 hours of our article being published the Appeal Court announced it would produce the months long delayed ruling on December 8th. Thanks to Shafee’s protest, it is now confirmed that the delay has suited Najib and he has been instrumental in it.
The former PM Mahiddin himself warned that this was so and complained of the pressure he himself was under to interfere – before he was elbowed out.
Thus, whether or not the court sticks to this disputed date, the perception of interference in this case can never be erased. If the judges do file into court, their heads lowered and shiftily over-turn the meticulous judgement made against Najib (the present prevailing view is that two of the three have now been brow beaten into agreeing to do so) then claims to judicial independence will be forever finished.
Those facing enforcement in foreign courts will need only to present this shining example of political interference in judicial outcomes to stake their case. However there is plenty more to choose from, which indeed explains the extreme sensitivity of Malaysia’s judges on the matter.
Earlier this year a haughty panel of judges from the country’s highest Federal Court fined a tiny online news organisation RM500,000 for having allowed an anonymous comment to be posted that had questioned the independence of the courts.
The paper was held to be in contempt. No matter that the comment was up for the shortest time before its monitors saw and removed it – some fast acting member of the public had apparently managed to screen-save the atrocity and to make a police report.
Such is the level of concern within the Malaysian judiciary over such perceptions which have without doubt been honed over the years by such examples as a recording of one of their members caught discussing the rigging of a trial and a more recent situation whereby the country’s own Chief Justice has filed a police report against alleged texted boasts by senior lawyers that their friends could manipulate her management of a trial.
Tales of bought decisions are regularly swapped amongst litigants, verbally and informally – who has not heard them? Events have not helped dampen down perceptions such as this.
In perhaps the most famous case of recent injustice the conviction of the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was not only pardoned following the 2018 election by the then Agong, but was dismissed by the royal leader as baseless and wrong.
At the time of his ultimate sentencing it was widely circulated that judges had brought two rulings, one that had exonerated him and the one they eventually agreed to publish, which convicted him. Such rumours do not fly around in places like the United Kingdom, for example, where the integrity of judges is simply never questioned – the lack of confidence is a consequence of abusive process such as the extraordinary irregularities of Anwar’s own case.
It is worth recalling, after all, that the man who acted as ‘special prosecutor’ in Anwar’s case, apparently because the regular prosecutors had declined to do so, was the same Shafee Abdullah who has almost exclusively worked for Najib Razak since he stepped in to assist his representations following the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu at the hands of Najib’s guards in 2006.
Unlike Najib, Anwar had been acquitted in the High Court on the strange and trumped up case which has now finally been ruled to have been a fabrication (only after the opposition politician spent a further three years in jail for Najib’s political convenience).
In well-run judiciaries an acquittal on a criminal charge cannot be appealed by prosecutors without the production of critical new evidence. Najib’s AG had none, which was why he drove his own lawyer (who claimed he was doing if free as a national service whilst he was in fact being paid millions in stolen 1MDB cash) into performing the job.
Shafee, as the then PM’s personal lawyer, drove the dud case through the Appeal and the Federal Courts where the judges agreed to overturn an acquittal in the face of the weakest of evidence and blatant political motivation and interference.
So, following the Altantuya scandal in terms of both the shocking court case and shocking cover ups and then this appalling treatment of Malaysia’s opposition leader, the disgraced son and nephew of former prime ministers is employed once more in abusing his inherited influence and thuggish party apparatus in seeking to produce outrageous legal outcomes.
Najib intends to recover his position as prime minister in a country that rejected him at the ballot box for a very good reason. If he does so his country will never recover its own reputation internationally as a place to do business with, let alone trust when it comes to its legal processes.