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Despite Najib’s hearsay objection, court allows 1MDB’s ex-CEO to testify in full for now

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Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at Kuala Lumpur High Court for the 1MDB trial September 10, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at Kuala Lumpur High Court for the 1MDB trial September 10, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — The High Court today said it will for now allow 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) former CEO Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman to provide his full testimony as a prosecution witness against Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the latter’s trial, and decide later whether there are any elements of hearsay in Mohd Hazem’s testimony.

The High Court also said it was premature for it to decide now on Najib’s bid to stop Mohd Hazem from presenting parts of his testimony in court — including what the former CEO claimed to have heard from fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho about 1MDB matters. Najib’s lawyers had previously claimed that some of Mohd Hazem’s testimony would be hearsay and cannot be admitted as evidence in court.

After having spent three afternoons hearing arguments from the prosecution and Najib’s legal team, High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah said he would decide at a later stage on whether any part of Mohd Hazem’s written witness statement contained hearsay evidence.

“After hearing submissions from both parties, this court rules the decision — to determine whether certain passages in the witness statement constitutes hearsay evidence and ought to be excluded — is suspended to the end of the prosecution stage or such further time,” the judge said this evening after hearing the final arguments from both sides on the hearsay issue.

The judge noted that this was because the prosecution may bring in further evidence subsequently that would mean that the parts of Mohd Hazem’s witness statement — that Najib’s lawyers wanted to be removed — would not be considered hearsay.

“The reason is as follows: certain evidence may emerge in later stages in the prosecution’s case which may render the passages objected to being an exception to the hearsay rule.

“Secondly, this court is therefore not in a position to determine admissibility of evidence in the witness statement as it has yet to hear other evidence emerging. It is thus premature for the court to decide on the issue at this stage,” the judge said.

The judge also highlighted that the prosecution would be prejudiced if Mohd Hazem was to be barred from presenting his witness statement in full for now, as the prosecution may be “deprived of the opportunity to adduce evidence which may render” the objected paragraphs “admissible”.

The judge also indicated that the prosecution would also be hampered from unfolding the narrative of its case against Najib, if Mohd Hazem was not allowed to tell his story in full for now.

The judge noted that Najib’s defence team on the other hand would suffer no prejudice as the objected parts of Mohd Hazem’s witness statement can be excluded or removed as evidence later on, if it is found that such evidence is hearsay evidence.

The judge also said that Najib’s lawyers can also tailor his defence with reference to those objected paragraphs in Mohd Hazem’s witness statement.

“The witness statement of this witness is therefore to be admitted in its entirety at this point,” the judge concluded when saying that Mohd Hazem can read out his witness statement in full when he takes the witness stand in this trial.

The prosecution has previously argued that the parts in Mohd Hazem’s witness statement — which Najib’s lawyers are objecting to — are not hearsay and should be admitted in court. The court today deferred its decision on whether such elements are hearsay, in order to hear more related evidence first that would put it in a better position to decide.

Former 1MDB CEO Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman at Kuala Lumpur High Court for the 1MDB trial September 10, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Former 1MDB CEO Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman at Kuala Lumpur High Court for the 1MDB trial September 10, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

In this trial, Najib is facing 25 charges — four counts of power abuse and 21 counts of money-laundering — in relation to more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.

When the trial resumes next Monday, Mohd Hazem is expected to finally enter the courtroom to begin testifying as the 10th prosecution witness against Najib.

Mohd Hazem has been present in the Kuala Lumpur court complex this week as he was scheduled to start his testimony in the 1MDB trial, but has yet to even be called into the courtroom as Najib’s lawyers had raised the hearsay objection and the court has been hearing arguments on this matter this week.

Mohd Hazem was the successor to Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi for the post of 1MDB CEO.

Shahrol had as the ninth prosecution witness in this case spent 40 days in court proceedings for this trial, with the prosecution previously saying that it plans to call 55 more prosecution witnesses after him. Including the days when Shahrol testified, this trial has gone on for more than 50 days.

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