The Federal Court has upheld Najib Razak's conviction and sentence for the misappropriation of RM42 million in SRC International funds, dealing a major blow to the former prime minister's future some four years after his fall from power.
The five-man bench led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat delivered the unanimous decision after a day of drama which included an attempt by the defence to recuse her from hearing the appeal.
Najib will begin serving his jail term today, making him the first Malaysian prime minister to ever be sent to prison.
Najib, 69, was convicted, sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on July 28, 2020.
The ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8, 2021.
Tengku Maimun, in handing down the decision with Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim and Federal Court judges Nallini Pathmanathan, Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Mohamad Zabidin Mohd, said the court unanimously dismissed Najib's appeals and that the lower courts' conviction was safe.
"The defence is so inherently inconsistent and incredible that it has not raised reasonable doubt on the case... We also find that the sentence imposed is not manifestly excessive," she said.
Reading from a statement before the verdict today, Najib said he took responsibility for the decisions concerning his representation.
He had replaced his legal team just three weeks before his appeal began last week, appointing Hisyam Teh Poh Teik as his lead counsel and Messrs Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners (ZIST) as his solicitor.
He was previously represented by Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and legal firm Messrs Shafee & Co.
Messrs Shafee & Co had represented Najib in his SRC International cases since the Pekan MP was charged in 2018.
However, Hisyam sought to discharge himself from representing Najib on Aug 18, saying he needed more time and was not prepared.
His attempt was rejected by the Federal Court, and Najib laid off ZIST the following day.
Speaking today, Najib said he "genuinely thought" that these had been sound decisions at the time, based on the advice from his solicitors and external counsel.
"My previous lawyers at Shafee & Co did well over the past four years, representing me in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, leaving no stone unturned, which is why they remain my lawyers in the other trials I am facing.
"But notwithstanding their valiant efforts, I lost in both my trial and the appeal to the Court of Appeal, not because my defence lacks merit," he said.
Adding that he felt a fresh perspective of the case was necessary for his final appeal, he said his initial plan was to engage the services of a Queen's Counsel from the UK.
However, the application to bring Jonathan Laidlaw on board was rejected by the High Court on July 21.
"Zaid Ibrahim who had approached me some time back represented that he was able to bring in legal expertise from India through his Singaporean partner, a certain Mr Niru Pillai," Najib said.
"I had no knowledge of Zaid Ibrahim or his Singaporean partner, of their expertise or otherwise in areas of criminal law, but I was then introduced by them to two senior counsel from India, who initially impressed me with their ideas.
"Zaid and his team came with a condition that their engagement must include his firm being placed as solicitors on record, and a new local counsel to come on board," he said.
"I never knew that neither Zaid Ibrahim nor Niru Pillai had ever practised criminal law, or had sufficient knowledge on those subjects."
Adding that he had never sought an adjournment in the appeal until that point, Najib said he had been convinced that this was an appropriate decision after being told that other high profile appeals in the past had been granted mutiple adjournments in the spirit of due process.
"I am not ashamed to say, I was desperate, as would be any litigant placed in my situation and predicament. I thought what I decided would increase my chances of improving the quality of submissions at the appeal."