KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 — Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak plans to initiate contempt of court action against at least one media outlet over alleged “unfair” reporting on his 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) trial, his lawyer told the High Court today.
Just hearing for the 1MDB trial this morning, Najib’s lead lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah highlighted to the High Court about alleged unfair news reports on Tuesday regarding court testimony by the 49th prosecution witness on the accused.
“Yang Arif, I have instruction from my client, that in view of what transpired in court on the last occasion, there has been very prejudicial and unfair reporting in the local press,” he told trial judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah.
Shafee singled out one particular news report that featured the headline “Najib allegedly used US$681mil linked to 1MDB to influence 2013 General Election votes”.
He claimed this headline is untrue and wrong as US$620 million out of US$681 million – which had entered Najib’s bank account – was allegedly “returned” to the sender.
Shafee claimed that there has “never been proof” that the remainder of the money, US$61 million, was used to influence the 2013 general election (GE13), saying instead that there is evidence to show that Najib used some of this money to give to various Umno divisions, some political matters, and matters related to welfare and corporate social responsibility.
He said that several other media outlets also featured headlines of Najib being suspected of receiving US$681 million to buy GE13 votes or that Najib was suspected of using the money to buy votes, arguing that the way these headlines were written were not correct.
Shafee said Najib has given him instructions and that they are definitely taking action against the news outlet mentioned for contempt.
“We are considering all the others in making a possible contempt application,” he added.
Shafee then argued that the 49th prosecution witness, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigating officer Senior Superintendent Nur Aida Arifin, was making conclusions about her investigation when she was not an expert.
He said her role is only to collect evidence and not to make opinions.
Shafee also argued that it should be the trial judge that makes conclusions on some of the issues testified by Nur Aida.
He urged the prosecution to reconsider rephrasing the alleged “prejudicial” parts in her witness statement which allegedly involve hearsay or conclusions she had made.
Shafee also said only MACC is able to conceal the identity of the complainant, as MACC officers will be the one making reports lodged to MACC based on information received from the complainant or informer.
He later claimed such reports lodged with the MACC would amount to hearsay, as the MACC officers would be the ones writing the reports based on information from the original complainant.
But deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib pointed out that the media was merely reporting on Nur Aida’s court testimony, where she was quoting verbatim from a report made to the MACC to initiate investigations in 2015 on Najib.
“So we, the prosecution, we can’t control what and how the press make their reports. But what is more important here is what the witness says in court and what becomes evidence before Your Lordship, it’s just quoting from a report and that report verbatim is what she said in court,” he said.
He added that Nur Aida was just testifying as a matter of fact that such a report was made in 2015 to the MACC.
As for Shafee’s highlighting that the informer’s identity is concealed, Akram noted that Section 29(4) of the MACC Act 2009 requires reports of corruption offences lodged with the MACC to “be kept secret” and not to be disclosed until a person is charged in court as a result of the report.
Akram said most cases investigated by the MACC are public interest cases involving high-ranking people, and that Parliament had passed this law which he said was necessary to enable the identity of the complainant to be kept secret.
He said this was why an MACC officer will be the one putting down a complainant’s information in writing into a report, instead of the complainant being the one writing down the report.
He again said Nur Aida was merely reading out the report lodged with the MACC in 2015 to the court.
“What and how the newspapers report is beyond us, I can’t be telling the press how to do their reports, therefore it will not be fair if any allegation is made against us that we are trying to do funny things here. She is just referring to a report and read it aloud in open court,” he said.
As for how Nur Aida’s witness statement was phrased, Akram said the prosecution will go through the witness statement with her to see if she is agreeable to rephrase certain parts.
In light of Shafee’s complaint, Akram said the prosecution would list down the relevant documents for each of her points instead of following the initial plan of referring a list of documents for all the points at the end of her testimony at the examination-in-chief stage.
Following this, Nur Aida then resumed testifying on the findings of her investigation on alleged power of abuse offences by Najib in relation to 1MDB funds.
Najib’s 1MDB trial resumes next Monday, with Nur Aida expected to remain in the witness stand.
Last Tuesday, Nur Aida had testified that MACC had started investigations on Najib, following an 2015 report over US$681 million which entered his private bank account and over suspicion that the money was used for vote-buying ahead of GE13.
“Information received stated that in 2013, prime minister YAB Datuk Seri Mohd Najib bin Abdul Razak through his account at AmPrivate Banking, AmBank Berhad number 2112022009694 had received money totalling around USD 681 million from Tanore Finance Corporation through Falcon Private Bank Singapore where it is suspected that money is wang rasuah (bribery money) used by YAB Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak to buy votes during preparation to face the 2013 general elections. This complaint was made to carry out investigations under Section 16 MACC Act 2009,” Nur Aida had said in reading out the original complaint dated May 4, 2015 made by an officer to enable the MACC probe.
Nur Aida, who was an assistant investigating officer in MACC’s 2015 investigations involving Najib, was later appointed on May 14, 2018 to be the investigating officer in relation to Najib and 1MDB funds. She also read out the contents of a May 17, 2018 complaint which she had signed, where it was stated that information was received that the former prime minister Najib had between 2011 and 2013 as the chairman of 1MDB’s advisory board and as finance minister received gratification through 1MDB’s public investment funds totalling RM3.217 billion which were sent to his private AmBank account (the same account number ending 9694) for his personal interests.
In her 2018 complaint, Nur Aida said it was made to enable investigations to be carried out under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009.