Top court begins hearing ex-PM Najib Razak's appeal to overturn his jail sentence in a case linked to multibillion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal.
Malaysia's top court has begun hearing ex-PM Najib Razak's appeal to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit that could see him locked up or potentially launching a political comeback.
The Federal Court on Tuesday dismissed the former prime minister's plea for a retrial, clearing the way for the hearings which will be held until August 26.
Lead defence lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik surprised the court on Thursday by telling the panel of five judges that he wanted to be discharged from the case, citing inadequate time to prepare as he had been recently appointed.
The court, however, refused to discharge him and Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat ordered the prosecution to present its case.
Najib, 69, has pleaded not guilty to dozens of charges over the alleged theft of $4.5 billion from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (or 1MDB), a state fund he co-founded as premier in 2009.
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.
$1 billion in 1MDB funds
Najib, 69, and his ruling party were defeated in 2018 elections following allegations of their involvement in the multibillion-dollar scandal.
Prosecutors say more than $1 billion in 1MDB funds made its way into Najib's personal accounts.
In July 2020, he was convicted in the first of several trials of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering, for illegally receiving about $10 million from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.
An appeals court upheld the conviction last year.
No easy comeback
In a statement after the hearing, Najib 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.
"I am now in a situation where my right to counsel and a fair hearing is illusory," he said.
If the conviction is upheld, Najib will begin serving his jail sentence immediately, lawyers said.
An acquittal, however, could propel him into contention for his former political post, as he remains popular in Malaysia despite the scandal that plagued his administration.
He remains a lawmaker with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the leading party in the current government, and helped its candidates win in recent by-elections.