PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Former Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday demanded that Malaysia’s chief justice recuse himself from the latest appeal of his 12-year prison sentence in a bribery case related to the massive heist of state fund 1MDB.
The new twist comes after a five-man Federal Court panel led by Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat last week refused to adjourn a hearing for Najib’s newly appointed lawyers to prepare for the case.
The court also rejected his attempt to present new evidence that would have triggered a retrial of the allegations of judicial bias. Najib’s new lead lawyer, Hisham Teh Po Teik, asked to recuse himself because he was not given time to prepare, but the court rejected his request.
Hisiam then said he would not make any new submissions in the appeal in addition to those already prepared by previous counsel. Najib said his right to a fair trial was compromised because he was not without effective counsel or adequate representation in such a case.
The prosecution finished its arguments on Friday and his defense was due to begin on Tuesday.
But at the start of the hearing, Hisiam told the Federal Court that the defense had filed a motion to recuse the chief justice on a point of law on Monday night. He said the move was not made to delay the trial, but was based on new information obtained by the defense. He did not elaborate.
Maimoun reminded the lawyer that the decision to postpone was at the discretion of the court and that Hisham should not assume that the court should grant his request for more time. She said that the court did not deprive him of the right to make statements, but he chose not to do so.
The court adjourned to decide the challenge.
Maimoon was attacked on social media by Najib supporters. Police arrested a man last weekend in connection with threats to kill Maimun.
Najib, 69, will become the first former Malaysian prime minister to be jailed if his appeal is not successful. He has pleaded not guilty and is on bail pending his appeal.
Hundreds of Najib’s supporters gathered outside the court in a show of support.
1MDB was a development fund set up by Najib shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators say at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the US and several other countries and led to the downfall of Najib’s government in the 2018 election. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials related to 1MDB, and his wife is also facing corruption charges.
Nevertheless, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malay National Organization leads the current government after a defection of lawmakers led to the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 election.
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