Former Prime Minister Najib Razak sought Tuesday to remove Malaysia's top judge from the final appeal against his 12-year prison sentence in a graft case linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state fund.
The new twist came after a five-member Federal Court bench, led by Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat, last week refused to postpone the hearing for Najib's newly appointed lawyers to prepare for the case.
The court also rejected his attempt to introduce new evidence that could spark a retrial on allegations of judicial bias. Najib's new lead counsel, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, then asked to withdraw himself as he wasn't given time to prepare but the court denied his request.
Hisyam then said he would not make any new submissions in the appeal in addition to those already prepared by the previous lawyer. Najib has protested that his right to a fair hearing was at stake as he was left with no effective counsel or proper representation in such a case.
The prosecution ended its arguments Friday and his defense was due to begin Tuesday.
But at the start of hearing, Hisyam told the Federal Court that the defense has made an application on Monday night to recuse the chief justice on a point of law. He said the move was not made to delay the trial but based on new information the defense has received. He didn’t elaborate.
Maimun reminded the counsel that it was the court's discretion to decide on any postponement and that Hisyam shouldn't assume the court must approve his request for more time. She said the court didn't deprive him the right to make submissions but that he himself chose not to.
The court has adjourned to decide on the recusal bid.
Maimun has come under attack on social media from Najib’s supporters. Police arrested a man over the weekend in connection with death threats made against Maimun.
Najib, 69, would become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be imprisoned if his appeal fails. He has maintained he is innocent and has been out on bail pending his appeals.
Hundreds of Najib's supporters amassed outside the court in a show of support.
1MDB was a development fund Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries and caused the downfall of Najib’s government in 2018 elections. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to 1MDB, and his wife is also on trial on corruption charges.
Still, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections of lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.