Former Malaysian PM Najib Jailed on Corruption Charges
Remand order stuns former prime minister and followers
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been immediately ordered to prison, ending more than two years of legal maneuvering since his trial court conviction as he and his United Malays National Organization followers fought marathon legal, political, and public battles to keep him free.
The Federal Court, the country’s highest tribunal, ordered the dapper 69-year-old former premier to immediately begin serving 12 years behind bars on seven counts of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust for steering millions of dollars into his own pockets from an offshoot of the failed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund, which collapsed in 2016 from mismanagement and corruption.
The verdict kicked off major celebrations in Kuala Lumpur among the opposition along with demonstrations by his followers that he didn’t get justice. “I’m happy he is behind bars,” said a local source. “It is an auspicious day for Malaysians and the judiciary.” It was a rare verdict in Southeast Asia, where impunity has meant that almost no corrupt figures have ever spent a day behind bars.
The five-member Federal Court, led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, has endured major threats of violence and even death threats over the ruling, which brings down arguably the most powerful political figurye in the country after four decades at or near the center of power, during which he compiled a considerable record of corruption, particularly in the defense ministry.
Although the gravity of his crimes would have put a lesser political figure behind bars, Najib spent the two-plus years free in the public eye since his 2020 trial court conviction as a kingmaker and strategist for UMNO, engineering a series of by-election victories that helped to catapult the party back to power after a June 2018 election that ended its 60-year reign at the head of the ruling national coalition. He was given the nickname “Bossku,” or “our boss” by his UMNO followers, a defiant term that basically asked, “so what?”
The verdict immediately kicked off speculation that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who controls one faction of Najib’s UMNO, would call for national elections as early as October. Najib and UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who faces scores of corruption charges as well, had pushed vainly for elections prior to the verdict in the hope that a resounding electoral victory would lead to a groundswell that would keep them from behind bars.
The verdict leaves Ismail Sabri a clear field to claim undisputed leadership of UMNO, the country’s most powerful political party despite a record of indelible corruption. Currently, power is still very much in the hands of the ‘court cluster’ – so named because of corruption charges that remain to be adjudicated – led by Najib and Zahid.
The jail term – which could be shortened by a royal pardon – is a sad denouement from Najib’s years as prime minister, when he golfed with former US President Barak Obama and addressed the United Nations as a moderate Islamic global leader. Even if there were to be a royal pardon, the conviction bars him permanently from holding public office. A member of one of the country’s most illustrious political families, his father, Tun Abdul Razak, was Malaysia’s second prime minister after independence.
It was monumental greed, however, that brought him down and now threatens his wife, Rosmah Mansor, who also faces corruption charges. The verdict is only one of five trials Najib faces in the looting of 1MDB, from which as much as US$4.5 billion disappeared. The US Justice Department called the 1MDB matter the biggest kleptocracy case it had ever prosecuted, with homes in New York and Beverly Hills, paintings by old masters, an airplane, and vast amounts of jewelry recovered. Some of the looted money was used to finance the raunchy film Wolf of Wall Street.
Jho Taek Low, the Penang-born financier who is believed to be the mastermind in creating the investment fund in 2008, remains on the run six years after 1MDB’s collapse. He is believed to be in China and there have been reports he is attempting to negotiate with US authorities for the return of some of the loot in exchange for leniency. Jho Low, as he is known, has sought to pin the blame for 1MDB’s wreckage solely on Najib. The affair has also led to the conviction of one banker from the US behemoth Goldman Sachs.
Although it had been expected that the justices would adjudicate the case into September, the clearly stunned Najib was taken into custody immediately after the verdict, with the panel rejecting an attempt by his lawyers to stay or mitigate the sentence.
Tengku Maimun was quoted in local media as saying the defense was inconsistent and had failed to raise a reasonable doubt.
"These appeals are therefore unanimously dismissed and the conviction and sentence are affirmed," she said before adjourning the proceedings.
Najib was said to be remanded to Kuala Lumpur’s Kajang Prison, where he won’t be dumped into the general prison population. He is likely to be given a private room with air conditioning and television, along with other amenities.
Surely special treatment in prison must be unconstitutional.
Has Malaysia finally returned to the rule of law?