Day 1 of 4,380: Disgraced former PM immediately hauled off to jail to begin serving his 12-year sentence after his final appeal was unanimously rejected by the court.
Over four years since being initially charged with crimes, and some two years after his conviction, former Prime Minister Najib Razak ran out of legal options on August 23, 2022.
The Federal Court affirmed Najib Razak’s conviction and sentence in the SRC International case, unanimously rejecting his appeal of the convictions on seven charges which had been brought against him for abuse of power, misappropriation, and money laundering involving RM42 million of funds belonging to SRC International.
Najib was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and fined RM210 million two years ago, but had been working his appeals up the legal food chain until he hit the end of the line yesterday, despite protests from Najib’s lawyer.
“These appeals are therefore unanimously dismissed and the conviction and sentence are affirmed, warrant of committal is issued,” Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said.
Najib’s lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik then informed the court that the defence wished to file a stay of execution, pending a review of the decision.
“There is no provision under the law for stay (of execution) pending review,” Tengku Maimun replied.
With that one-sentence declaration, Najib, once Malaysia’s Prime Minister and expected in many circles to make a bid to return to the top spot, was required to begin serving his jail term immediately. Following the ruling, he was subsequently taken to Kajang Prison.
The news of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister being hauled off to jail, now a poster child for rampant corruption in Malaysia, made international headlines.
“Malaysia’s former prime minister will be sent to prison for his role in the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal after a court in Kuala Lumpur rejected his final appeal on Tuesday,” declared CNN in its coverage.
‘OVERWHELMING’ EVIDENCE OF GUILT
Reading out the unanimous decision of the court on Tuesday, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said, “It is our unanimous view that the evidence led during the trial points overwhelmingly to guilt on all seven charges, so much so that it would have been a travesty of justice of the highest order if any reasonable tribunal, faced with such evidence staring it in the face, were to find that the appellant [Najib] is not guilty of the seven charges preferred against him.”
Tengku Maimun led a five-member apex court bench which also comprised Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, and apex court judges Nallini Pathmanathan, Mary Lim, and Mohamad Zabidin Diah.
With the decision, Najib becomes the first former prime minister in the history of the country to be jailed. The court’s decision also means that Najib is set to lose his seat as the MP for Pekan under Article 48(1)(e) of the Federal Constitution.
Though there are still a couple of options Najib could pursue – such as writing to the King and asking for clemency, or hoping that UMNO might reclaim power in the next general election and press the King for a royal pardon on his behalf – most legal experts in Malaysia seem to believe Najib will be incarcerated for a lengthy time, even if he ultimately does not serve his full 4,380-day sentence.
Though Najib maintains his innocence and still enjoys a measure of popular support, it appears that for many Malaysians, the sense was that justice had finally been served, and the events of August 23, 2022 provided a cathartic conclusion to a sorry chapter in the country’s history.
A BRIEF TIMELINE OF LEGAL WRANGLING
For a complete primer on the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal that led to Najib’s fall, CLICK HERE.
The legal machinations which brought about Najib’s imprisonment began just over four years ago.
The former PM was arrested on July 3, 2018 and charged the following day. Though a number of delays and pauses in proceedings occurred, his trial was ultimately conducted in the High Court over 79 days between April 2019 and March 2020 and a total of 86 witnesses testified. On July 28, 2020, Najib was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of RM210 million. Then the series of appeals and legal manoeuvring began in earnest.
However, on December 8, 2021, a three-member Court of Appeals panel chaired by Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil unanimously upheld Najib’s conviction and sentence. The other judges who presided were Has Zanah Mehat and Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera.
As the disgraced former PM now begins serving his sentence, insisting that he did not receive a fair trial, attention turns to fugitive businessman and financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, widely believed to be the overall architect of the 1MBD scandal. Najib is also not out of legal hot water, either, as he still faces multiple other criminal charges, as does his wife, Rosmah Mansor.
DAP Chairman Lim Guan Eng released a statement following the events of yesterday, saying, “DAP urges the government to redouble [its] efforts to nab Jho Low, his family, and associates connected with the RM52 billion 1MDB scandal to bring justice to 32 million Malaysians robbed by the biggest heist in history.”
Lim, the former finance minister and Penang chief minister, added that it is “manifestly unfair and a travesty of justice” that Low, his family, and associates connected with the 1MDB crime are allowed to roam free while Najib has had his day in court, concluding, “No expense or effort should be spared to bring to book Jho Low, his family and associates for robbing Malaysians of tens of billions of ringgit in the 1MDB scandal.”
As covered by Sarawak Report, which carried out and published impressively in-depth investigative reporting on 1MDB at considerable personal risk to its editor, Clare Rewcastle Brown, “The effort that it took to hold [Najib] to account for this extremely straightforward case of abuse of power and theft – he set up a fund using borrowed public money and then treated it as his piggy bank – was staggering.
“For months and years he employed every tactic of delay his lawyers could dream up, eventually collapsing into a courtroom farce as lawyers bobbed in and out of representing him (the last one having emerged from the public gallery to announce his new role on the final day of this years-long process).
“In the end, Najib’s overkill and the incompetence of his increasingly desperate lawyers worked against him, surprising everyone with the speed in which he landed in jail [on Tuesday] as his trial collapsed around him.”
Indeed, for the once-high-flying Najib Razak, who enjoyed a storied political career almost from its beginning at age 23, it certainly seems that his privileged days of living luxuriously while evading accountability have come to an end.
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