Attorney-General (A-G) Tommy Thomas said he is not aware that the High Court judge in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s case is the brother of Pahang Umno state executive council member Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abdul Razak. It has been learnt that High Court judge Datuk Mohd Sofian Abd Razak is the younger brother of Benta Umno state assemblyman Mohd Soffi. Upon hearing the news, Thomas said that: “This is the first time I heard about this.”
A search found that both Mohd Soffi and Mohd Sofian received the Sri Indera Mahkota Pahang (SIMP) award, which carries the title Datuk, by Sultan Ahmad Shah Sultan Abu Bakar in 2012. Mohd Soffi, who is chairperson of the Pahang State Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Committee, retained his Benta state seat in the 14th General Election with a slim 340 vote majority. The Benta seat has been held by the 61-year-old politician since 1999. As for Mohd Sofian, 57, he was appointed a judicial commissioner in 2005 before he was appointed High Court judge in 2007. Judge Mohd Sofian Abd Razak should recuse himself from hearing the corruption case against former prime minister Najib Razak as it is vital for the public to be confident of a fair trial, say lawyers. “The issue is not actual bias but the perception that there is a potential conflict of interest or bias,” said Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen today. He said although the relatives of judges are free to be involved in political activities, the judge must be recused if there is potential conflict of interest. “Justice must be seen to be done and there should not be any perception that the judiciary can be unduly influenced in such a high profile case,” said Paulsen. As it is, the judge has issued a gag order on a case of public interest, which is “unusual” and “unconstitutional”, lawyers said.
Litigation lawyer Fahri Azzat said although judge Sofian does not have direct or indirect familial or friendship ties with Najib, Sofian’s brother belonged to the same political party as the accused. “That person is a high ranking Umno officer and Najib was the party president. As such, it’s not in anyone’s interest for the case to begin on such a footing,” said Fahri. Former Universiti Malaya law lecturer Prof Gurdial Singh Nijar agreed Mohd Sofian should recuse himself to avoid misperception. More so when the case is of such wide public interest, said the Hakam deputy president. The Malaysian Bar has also urged the High Court judge in former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s criminal cases to recuse himself from further hearing the case.
In a statement today, Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said this is in light of reports that the judge, Mohd Sofian Abd Razak, is the younger brother of Pahang state executive councillor and Benta Umno state assemblyperson Mohd Soffi Abdul Razak, given that former Premier Najib was until recently president of Umno and chairman of Barisan Nasional (BN), the judge ought to have disclosed his relationship to his brother and Mohd Soffi’s position in Umno and the Pahang state government to the prosecution and the defence prior to yesterday’s proceedings. “The rule of law demands that justice must not only be done but it must manifestly be seen to be done. Given that the former prime minister was until recently the president of Umno and chairperson of BN, the judge ought to have disclosed to the prosecution and the defence, prior to the hearing yesterday, this relationship and about the latter’s position in Umno and the Pahang state government The Malaysian Bar believes that such a disclosure by the judge is necessary to preserve the integrity of the proceedings before him and to avoid any real danger of bias. The judge’s failure to do so has unfortunately raised serious questions about the propriety of him continuing to preside over the case,” said Varughese.
Najib on Wednesday claimed trial to three counts of criminal breach of trust and another charge of abuse of power involving RM42 million linked to SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Najib pleaded not guilty when the charges were read out to him by Mohd Sofian. Mohd Sofian set the bail at RM1mil with two sureties. He ordered Najib to surrender both his civilian and diplomatic passports to the court. The court also agreed for the bail payment to be in two installments. Najib left the court complex after paying RM500,000 on Wednesday. The remainder will be paid on Monday.