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8:23pm 22/08/2022
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Najib Razak’s real trial strategy
By:Murray Hunter

There is no doubt that former Prime Minister Najib Razak has broken laws on numerous occasions, and even committed more serious crimes than those he was convicted for in the SRC International case.

While the Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat has handled Najib Razak’s final appeal very well, dealing with the shenanigans and maneuverings with Najib’s legal team, the situation is very fluid.

Najib is already disputing the decision before it is handed down. The real tactics are outside the courtroom where the integrity and impartiality of the CJ Tengku Maimun is being attacked through her husband’s membership of Umno political rival Bersatu.

This all appears to be in retaliation to the disappointment of not being granted leave to submit evidence that the original High Court trial judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali had a distinct conflict of interest in the case, being actually involved in some of the transactions during his tenure as a corporate bank executive.

This should all not come as a surprise, as it is becoming more apparent that Najib’s true strategy has nothing to do with the appeal hearing, but with creating the perception he has not received a fair hearing by the court.

Najib has declared war upon the judiciary, casting aspersions over conflict of interests in an attempt to portray himself as a victim of the justice system.

To some degree it is true that Najib would never receive a trial where there would be an assumption of “innocent until proven guilty” around the court case.

The media and politics around the 1MDB financial scandal has seen to that, where the majority of people on the street have a strong aversion about Najib’s guilt.

However, with a professional judiciary, this doesn’t mean within the court itself, there would not be fairness and impartiality.

It’s becoming more apparent that Najib’s true strategy has nothing to do with the appeal hearing, but with creating the perception he has not received a fair hearing by the court.

In terms of legal, corporate and political circles, Kuala Lumpur is a very small town. This is where the Najib case can become unhinged.

It actually took a long period of time to find a suitable judge for the first Najib trial in the high court back in 2019. Many potential judges recused themselves over potential conflicts of interests, where many siblings or other members of the family were even members of Umno.

It can also be argued that the case was political from the start and any government prosecutors can contrive charges that are convictable upon.

This is not just the situation exclusive to Malaysia, even former US presidents can potentially face the politicization of the legal system against them.

However, Malaysia has a long history of political interference within the judiciary and this is being played to Najib’s advantage towards the final arbitrator in Najib’s legal saga.

The Najib case cannot escape politics. 1MDB was one of the major issues of the 2018 general election.

Najib is now trying to portray that his incarceration in prison would have adverse political ramifications for the country.

There is no argument this would not be the case. The opposition will get a massive boost with Najib in prison and has further material through the breaking LCS scandal to use as election fodder.

The opposition is targeting 50 of the most marginal seats with teams ready to go into the heartlands to explain the issue, in a replay of Mahathir’s 2018 strategy to attack Najib.

Najib’s incarceration will certainly boost the Ismail Sabri government, held together with Umno renegades, Bersatu stalwarts and PAS ideologues, supported now informally by Pakatan Harapan.

Ismail Sabri by doing nothing is using the legal system to eliminate his primary opponent for the prime ministership.

Over the last few days, some senior Umno leaders have voiced their concerns that Najib hasn’t been given enough opportunity to prove his “innocence.” This hinges on showing the final arbitrator, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong that Najib has not been able to receive a fair trial.

If Najib is jailed, and this looks inevitable, the Najib forces want an environment where there will be a big question of the fairness and impartiality of his trial.

This leads to grounds for a pardon.

No matter what happens in the court room next week, its certain to lead to more political instability.

A jailing and disqualification of Najib as a member of parliament is one thing. His absence around Umno could lead to a massive power struggle and split.

This is also starting to have social costs. There has already been a threat against the Chief Justice.

The jailing of Najib could lead to small managed violent protests, while his non-jailing would lead to widespread loss of trust in the judiciary.

Needless to say, the final saga of the Najib case will be outside the Federal Court.

In Malay culture, symbolism is important, and all the symbols have been there.

Has the last week just been sandiwara for a deliberately planned outcome?

(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)

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