Najib Said Seeking Friendly AG to Keep Him Out of Jail
Mysterious delay in appointing Malaysia’s new top legal officer
There is growing alarm in Malaysia that a mysterious delay in appointing a replacement for Idrus Harun, whose term ended on March 6, has been spawned by United Malays National Organization forces seeking to keep former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his so-called ‘court cluster” of accused felon allies out of jail via a receptive new attorney general who would dismiss the cases against them.
It is questionable whether the audacious plan would work. Najib’s case may be too far advanced for a new attorney general withdraw it since he has already been convicted and sentenced and the case has been upheld by the appellate court. Only the Federal Court now has the power to decide on the matter. (Update: On March 8, three days after Harun’s two-year contract had lapsed, the prime minister’s office finally announced it would be renewed for another year)
“I suspect Najib’s best hope now is a royal pardon,” a top figure said. “There is some argument as to whether the king can give this on his own or has to act only on the recommendation of the Pardons Board. UMNO is arguing that Anwar got a pardon so why not Najib. What he is fighting for I suspect is to have the remaining charges, charges against his wife and all the others withdrawn and then making a political comeback. UMNO will stop at nothing to regain power and regain access to the feeding trough.”
The delay in appointing a replacement for the country’s top law officer has generated consternation among government and legal officials who say the office’s legal advice is crucial on a daily basis across a wide range of concerns to keep the government working.
The attempt to find a malleable figure appears to have generated a secondary intraparty fight within UMNO between Najib’s forces and those aligned with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who took power last August after two years of bitter political infighting, leaving Najib, UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who faces 84 corruption charges himself, and the accused UMNO wheelhorses, in limbo.
“Initially, Idrus agreed to stay on until the next general election,” said a well-placed source, who said it is highly irregular for the government to leave such an important position vacant for so long. “He had wanted to retire but the government did not have a candidate in mind and asked him to stay on. However, since then, there has been intense lobbying by UMNO to replace him with someone who is willing to look more favorably at withdrawing charges against the kleptos. They have a number of candidates they are proposing.”
Najib was convicted in July 2020 of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving 42 million ringgit ($9.9 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1Malaysia Development Bhd, ill-starred former state-backed investment firm that collapsed in 2016 in a welter of scandal and US$4.5 billion in missing funds. When the bills are totaled, the scandal could cost the treasury as much as US$15 billion. He faces a total of 42 other charges in separate trials. His wife, Rosmah Mansor, faces additional charges of corruption.
The former premier’s appeal was convincingly denied in the appellate court in December, with the court calling his role in the 1MDB scandal a “national embarrassment.” Malaysia’s Federal Constitution is clear. Convicted felons can’t contest parliamentary seats. Unless Najib can somehow get the case set aside, he faces the Federal Court, which has set his case for hearing on March 15 and 16 despite attempts by his followers to delay it.
Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department for Parliament and Law, who is a member of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), a Barisan Nasional component party, was tight-lipped on the delay in the appointment of the new attorney general, saying it is up to Ismail Sabri.
The Malaysian Bar has questioned the government’s delay in clarifying the uncertainty over the 67-year-old Idrus’s contract, with President A G Kalidas saying, “It would be prudent if the prime minister does not wait until the eleventh hour to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and announce the appointment in the event of vacancy or the extension of the current appointment.” Kalidas refused comment when asked by Asia Sentinel.
Attempts to raise the former prime minister from political death began several months ago despite the fact that he may be the most-disgraced political figure in the country’s history and the principal target of what the US Justice Department called “the biggest kleptocracy case in US history” for the amount of assets he and his wife had amassed under nominees in the US. He remains arguably the most powerful figure in UMNO if not politics.
Since Najib’s 2020 conviction – which under other circumstances would have sent him straight to jail, however, he remains free on appeal. He has played an integral role in every by-election since the Barisan Nasional lost power in 2018 and continues to function as the party’s kingmaker.
Much of this is now playing out in Johor state elections due on March 13, where Najib is drawing massive crowds for his wing of UMNO while infighting continues with the party forces controlled by Ismail Sabri, who is determined to remain in power and apparently has given Najib and Hamidi short shrift. A convincing win on UMNO’s part is expected to raise their chances for some sort of clemency. The Johor election, if the Barisan Nasional pulls it off, is expected to call for a snap election as early as July. Elections are not due before July 2023.
In Najib’s favor is the fact that after four years of political turmoil and a crushing hit to the economy by the Covid-19 coronavirus – which voters think was mishandled – voters have largely forgotten that Najib was not only was the architect of the biggest financial scam in the country’s history, he was previously behind the billion-dollar purchase – complete with US$114 million in kickbacks – of submarines the country couldn’t use because most of its coastal waters are too shallow for them to submerge. As defense minister before he became prime minister, he presided over a hive of corruption in the purchase of armaments. He has reliably been accused by his two one-time bodyguards of ordering them to murder the jet-setting Mongolian party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006.
In addition to being ordered to jail for 12 years, the first premier in Malaysian history to be convicted of corruption, he was also fined RM210 million (US$50 million). It is worth recalling what police found at Najib’s digs when they arrested him in 2018 on corruption charges. The loot included US$273 million worth of jewelry, handbags and other valuables, the biggest haul in Malaysian history by far and a pretty penny for a man whose salary as prime minister and member of parliament was roughly US$120,000 a year. Police filled five trucks with cash in 26 currencies totaling US$28.6 million plus 457 handbags, including Hermes bags worth US$12 million, 423 watches valued at US$19 million, and 234 pairs of sunglasses worth US$93,000. Included were 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras.
Millions of dollars in state-owned sovereign funds were steered into the making of the Wolf of Wall Street, produced by Najib’s stepson, Reza Aziz, but banned in Malaysia as too lurid for Muslim sensibilities. Reza has already been allowed to skate by Malaysian authorities without facing charges.
Nearly US$1 billion – US$681 million of that in one dose – made it into Najib’s personal bank account in 2013, with US$620 million going back out a few months later to an unknown destination. Some U$42 million appears to have been spent on shopping trips in Milan and Monaco, among other enclaves for the moneyed. His wife Rosmah –now on trial as well – has been photographed wearing enough jewelry to glitter like an iceberg in the sun.
Assets seized in the US, believed to have been acquired for Rosmah by Jho Low, included interests in the music company EMI Music, artwork by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, high-end real estate in New York and Beverly Hills, a US$35 million jet aircraft and a 300-foot yacht.