Lawyers and legal experts disagree on whether former prime minister Najib Razak had committed an offence when he was seen playing golf in Singapore after the court temporarily lifted a travel ban to allow him visit his daughter and her newborn child.
The former prime minister has defended himself against social media comments lambasting him for allegedly misleading the court, after a photograph of him playing golf with a prominent businessman in the city-state went viral.
“Am I expected to be with my grandkid 24 hours a day during the six days I was in Singapore?” he said, reacting to comments over a picture of him with entrepreneur Sam Goi Seng Hui.
Najib claimed that he had met Goi as the latter was interested in investing in Malaysia, adding that he was using his “personal time” for matters of investments “even though I am no longer a PM or minister”.
But a lawyer in Kuala Lumpur said Najib need not explain how he spent his time during the brief respite granted by the court.
“Unless of course there was a strict condition on what he should be doing. But in this case, his passport was returned in order for him to travel to Singapore.
“Technically, he didn’t commit an offence although it could look bad on him,” the senior lawyer said.
He added that it was impossible for the court to check how Najib had spent his time in Singapore, saying there was also no taxpayers’ money involved.
“This is unlike his application to be gifted a RM100 million home, which is legally okay but ethically wrong,” he added.
Another lawyer said that from a legal point of view, the Singapore golfing pictures were no different from those of him golfing with former US president Barack Obama in late 2014, just as Malaysia was facing its worst floods in more than a decade which displaced more than 200,000 people.
“He is just twice unlucky in the court of public opinion but legally, he might not get into trouble for this,” she said.
In October, the High Court granted the temporary release of Najib’s passport in order for him to join his wife Rosmah Mansor in visiting their daughter who was expected to give birth to her second child.
Rosmah, who is also under a travel ban while facing corruption charges, was likewise granted similar permission.
Najib was convicted in July last year of seven counts of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power involving RM42 million in SRC International funds, a judgment recently upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Najib’s bail under threat?
Outspoken lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla, however, said Najib must face the consequences, adding that this depends on the terms he had set out in seeking permission to travel to Singapore.
He said Najib must specify the itinerary of his Singapore tour in the affidavit he submitted when applying for his passport, including attending any business meetings as he had claimed.
“If playing golf and other activities such as meeting with the businessman are stated in the affidavit, then it is not an offence. Yet, if you think logically, would the court return the passport for such things?”
Haniff said if Najib had indeed breached his terms of travel, the prosecution could file for him to explain why his bail should not be revoked.
He said another option would be for prosecutors to request that his bail amount be doubled, from the present RM2 million to RM4 million.
Meantime, a former deputy public prosecutor when contacted said Najib’s action showed disrespect to the court.
“He misled the court into letting him go to Singapore to see his daughter. This could amount to contempt,” he told MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity.
MalaysiaNow has contacted Najib’s lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah for a response.
Additional reporting by Azzman Abdul Jamal.