KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — 1MDB trial judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah was not pleased when former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak failed to turn up at the High Court for the scheduled hearing this morning.
The 1MDB trial was scheduled to start at 9.30am today.
At about 9.40am when the judge entered the courtroom, Najib’s lawyer Rahmat Hazlan told the High Court that the defence team was only notified last night that their client, along with 113 other MPs, had been summoned to Istana Negara for an audience concerning the country’s future prime minister.
“So the King is to interview each MP one by one, my client is scheduled to leave from PWTC to the palace at 10.30am, we don’t know specifically what time he is scheduled to meet the King… but he is scheduled to leave at 10.30am from PWTC,” Rahmat said.
The judge responded: “He should have had the courtesy to come here first. Let me say in no uncertain terms, the King summoned MPs to the palace, of course he has to be there, be obedient to the King’s commands”.
Sequerah added: “But the newspaper reports I read said it’s going to be in batches. Your client better let me know from what time to what time. I want to know what time is his slot there, and after he meets the King, I want him back here and the trial to proceed. I may not even stop at 4pm today.”
The judge then gave Najib’s lawyers 10 minutes to find out and inform him on the time slot accorded to the Pekan MP’s audience at the palace.
On past occasions when Najib’s lawyers requested for his trial to be shortened or to be postponed or taken off due to various reasons, such as Najib’s ailments or his need to attend certain Parliament sittings, the judge would be stern when deciding whether to grant such requests, besides taking on a regretful tone over time lost or when the trial’s progress had to be slowed down.
But today, the judge spoke in an unusually angry and furious tone when Najib did not appear in court and when no definite window of time was given by his lawyer on how long Najib would not be available for today’s hearing.
Following a short break, Rahmat at around 10am told the judge that Najib’s lawyers could not provide a specific time as the MPs would be meeting the Yang di-Pertuan Agong individually and in turns.
“I was told he will be leaving PWTC at 10.30am and at any point in time he would be called to meet. The interview is one by one, it could be from 10.30am and beyond,” the lawyer said.
The judge then said: “He needs to commit unfortunately, otherwise at 2.30pm I will carry on.” The judge appeared to have calmed down by then.
Rahmat then said he would inform the court when he receives updates from Najib’s officers about when the latter would be available to attend the trial.
The judge responded: “Yes, actually I’m trying to be excused from that webinar which I have to join today because of this case. So please keep me informed, because I intend to carry on, come what may, and be prepared to go over time. Because we have lost too much time.”
Rahmat replied: “I understand, Yang Arif, has been most accommodating.”
The judge also said: “I’m sorry you have to be kept in suspense, but it’s unavoidable. All of us have duties to perform. As I said if the King summons, he has to be there, but he doesn’t have to be there all day. I need a window of time when he has to be there and give the Majesty his views.”
Yesterday, the judge had allowed a request by Najib’s lawyers for the morning session of the trial to end earlier at 10.45am, to enable the Pekan MP to attend a meeting at the PWTC with Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob for the selection of a new prime minister.
To make up for the lost time when the trial could only start at 3pm after Najib became available again, the High Court had yesterday heard the 1MDB trial past 5pm.
Yesterday, the judge had said the court would cut short the lunch break today to just 15 or 20 minutes in order to make up for lost time, but also said the trial would have to end at 4pm as the judge was scheduled to attend a webinar.
However, today the judge said he would seek to have the trial continue on beyond 4pm to make up for lost time.
In criminal trials, the accused have to attend the court proceedings in order to ensure a fair trial.
Trial dates are particularly precious for the courts, as hearing dates have to be managed to avoid overlaps in scheduling between different cases such as those involving Najib who faces more than one criminal case, and also based on the availability of lawyers and courts which handle multiple cases.