Najib Razak, a former Malaysian prime minister, requested on Tuesday that the chief justice step out from a panel hearing his final appeal against a corruption conviction and 12-year prison term stemming from a case connected to the 1MDB financial scandal.
The action is thought to be Najib’s most recent attempt to postpone the Federal Court’s ultimate decision, which would otherwise likely be rendered on Tuesday or postponed.
Najib’s lawyer filed a court application late on Monday to remove Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat from a five-member panel hearing his appeal, citing “a real danger of bias” due to social media comments made by her husband in 2018 that were critical of Najib.
“Because of the spousal relationship… there might be unconscious bias. In the sense that his opinions, his views would affect (the chief justice’s) findings in respect of the appeal right now,” Najib’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told the court.
The court began hearing the new application, which the prosecution called a delaying tactic.
“This application is mala fide, done deliberately to scuttle the progress of this case,” said lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram.
Critics say Najib has repeatedly tried to delay closure of the case, which was first brought on in 2018 .
Najib changed his legal team just three weeks before the final appeals process began last week. His lawyer Hisyam tried to quit last week, saying he did not have enough time to prepare, but the court refused to discharge him.
“I am not ashamed to say, I was desperate, as would any litigant in my predicament,” Najib said in a statement last week, explaining his move to change lawyers in the last minute.
The appeal hearing is scheduled to go on until Friday.
But it could end earlier as prosecutors wrapped up their arguments last week and Najib’s lawyers declined to present their submissions, again citing insufficient time to prepare.
Najib, 69, was found guilty in July 2020 of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power, and money laundering for illegally receiving about $10 million from SRC International, a former unit of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The former premier, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to 12 years’ jail and a 210 million ringgit ($46.84 million) fine.
Prosecutors have said some $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB – co-founded by Najib during his first year as prime minister in 2009. Investigators say they had traced more than $1 billion of 1MDB money to accounts linked to Najib.
The wide-ranging scandal has implicated officials and financial institutions around the world, and prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open what became its biggest kleptocracy investigation.
Najib, who faces several trials over the allegations, has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Najib has said that his right to a fair trial was at risk, after the court rejected multiple requests to postpone the appeal to allow his new legal team to fully prepare.
His previous lawyers had submitted a written petition ahead of the hearings.
In his submissions, Najib listed 94 reasons why he should be acquitted, including that lower courts had erred in some of their findings.
Prosecutors have said Najib was aware that the funds received in his account were proceeds from “an unlawful activity,” and had exercised his position as prime minister, finance minister and advisor to SRC International to obtain the funds.