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Malaysia prosecutors urge court to uphold ex-leader Najib's jail sentence

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak is facing a 12-year jail sentence for corruption. ©AFP

Putrajaya (Malaysia) (AFP) - Prosecutors on Friday urged Malaysia's highest court to uphold former prime minister Najib Razak's 12-year jail sentence for corruption as they wrapped up their case, saying his "dishonesty has been established".

On the second day of hearings at the Federal Court, the prosecutors pressed on with their arguments despite Najib's claim that he was not being given a fair trial.

Najib, 69, has mounted a high-stakes final appeal, which could see him imprisoned, or acquitted and attempting a return to power.

At the start of Friday's hearing, Najib's lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told the court that the former leader had discharged part of his defence team -- the latest development in a week marked by dramatic twists.

Hisyam himself had asked to be discharged from the case on Thursday, but was rejected. 

Two days earlier, the court also dismissed his appeal for a three- to four-month adjournment to help him prepare for the case as he had been recently appointed.

Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat in all three instances ordered the case to proceed, prompting Najib to complain he was not being given a fair trial.

Maimun has said that any delays in the proceedings were a waste of public funds, and that "justice delayed is justice denied to others".

'Abuse of court process'

The Malaysian Bar in a rare move strongly condemned the action by Najib's lawyers as an "abuse of the court process" and warned that the country's justice system was "being abused and brought to disrepute".

"Any purported injustice he claims himself to be in, if any, is surely self-inflicted," the lawyers' group said in a statement.

Najib and his ruling party were voted out in 2018 following allegations of their involvement in a multibillion-dollar financial scandal at state fund 1MDB.

He and his associates were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the country's investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.

Following a lengthy High Court trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from former 1MDB unit SRC International to his personal bank account.

He was sentenced to 12 years in jail in July 2020, though he has not been sent to prison while the appeals process plays out.

An appellate court last December rejected his appeal, prompting him to mount a final challenge before the Federal Court.

'Dishonesty established'

Najib "had failed to cast any reasonable doubt on the prosecution case and therefore...should be convicted", government prosecutor V Sithambaram told a five-judge panel Friday as he wrapped up the case for the government.

"The appellant's dishonesty has been established," he said.

When asked by the chief justice if he was giving a rebuttal, defence lawyer Hisyam repeatedly said he will not make any submissions.

Lawyers with knowledge of the case told AFP the court will resume Tuesday next week to ask the defence counsel again if he was going to argue the case.

If no rebuttal is provided, the court could base its decision on arguments Najib had given during his earlier plea before the appellate court, the lawyers said, who asked not to be named.

Najib on Thursday said he objected "in the strongest of terms" to how the court forced his lawyer to continue despite him wanting to be discharged, which he said effectively left him without proper counsel.

"My rights to life, liberty and right to a fair hearing is at stake," he said.

The hearings were supposed to last until August 26, but the defence's refusal to argue their case could shorten the schedule.

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