PUTRAJAYA – Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak on Friday (Aug 19) discharged part of his defence team in the midst of a hearing for his final appeal against a graft conviction – the second time he has discharged counsel in just two months.
Najib, who is facing 12 years in jail should he fail to overturn his conviction, discharged Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners (ZIST) on Friday, less than a month after hiring the firm which is led by former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim.
The matter was conveyed to Malaysia’s highest court – the Federal Court – on Friday by Najib’s lead counsel, Mr Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, who runs a separate law firm.
The court is sitting for the second day of Najib’s final appeal hearing, which is scheduled to run until Aug 26.
Najib, who has tried – and failed – multiple times to postpone the final appeal dates, has admitted that he has effectively been left “without a defence counsel” due to his defence team’s failure to secure an adjournment.
Mr Hisyam attempted to discharge himself as lead counsel on Thursday, when it became apparent the five-member bench at the court, led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, would not grant an adjournment.
The court exercised its discretion to reject the discharge attempt, which would have left Najib unrepresented.
Mr Hisyam was initially hired to lead Najib’s defence team after ZIST took over the brief, and was supposed to lead a team of lawyers from both firms. Only three lawyers were present from Najib’s defence team on Friday, all of them from Mr Hisyam’s firm.
Najib’s defence lawyers had largely relied on postponing the hearing dates in order to buy more time to prepare fresh arguments for the final appeal, citing lack of preparation after being hired less than a month ago.
Najib, who became concerned after losing the case at both the High Court and Court of Appeal, discharged his long-time lawyer Shafee Abdullah last month before hiring Mr Zaid to lead his defence.
On Thursday, Najib admitted that the change in counsel was a “desperate” move on his part due to his current predicament.
His defence lawyers had already opted not to exercise their right to make opening oral arguments in court on Thursday, allowing the prosecution to make their case during the appeal hearing. His team has applied – and failed – to seek adjournment three times; it has also failed twice to introduce new evidence.
If his team opts not to issue any counter arguments to the prosecution’s case, the only arguments that Najib could rely on would be the written submissions made by his ex-lawyer, Mr Shafee, when the appeal notice was filed at the end of last year.