Malaysia’s Supreme Court upholds corruption conviction of ex-PM Najib

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PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lost his final appeal on Tuesday in a corruption case linked to the looting of state fund 1MDB, as the highest court unanimously upheld his conviction and 12-year sentence of jail.

The loss means Najib will have to start serving his sentence immediately, becoming the first former prime minister to be imprisoned. He left the courthouse after the verdict and was reportedly taken to jail.

The five-member Federal Court panel said it had concluded the High Court judge was correct in his judgment and that Najib’s appeal was “devoid of any merit”.

“This is a simple and straightforward case of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering,” said Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat, who read the verdict.

“We are unable to conclude that any of the High Court’s findings, as affirmed by the Court of Appeal, were so perverse or manifestly wrong as to warrant appellate intervention. We agree that the defense is so inherently inconsistent and unbelievable that it does not raise a reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case,” she said.

The court ordered Najib to begin his sentence behind bars. He must also pay a fine of 210 million ringgit ($47 million).

1MDB was a development fund that Najib established shortly after he came to power in 2009. Investigators say at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty in 2020 of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

Najib, 69, maintained he was innocent and had been released on bail pending his appeals. Just before the court delivered its verdict, he rose from the dock to make a statement protesting the Supreme Court’s series of refusals last week to postpone appeal hearings.

Najib said he felt “unfairly treated” and his case was rushed. He pointed out that a leaked federal court verdict had been posted on a website and said if true, it would be “prime judicial misconduct”.

But Maimun said the appeal hearings ended because Najib’s newly appointed lawyers refused to present new arguments in protest at not having more time to prepare.

Najib appeared in shock after the verdict was read. He was immediately surrounded by his family and supporters.

“This is a historic moment for Malaysia, where the most senior leader actually faces an unprecedented moment of political responsibility,” said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert at the University of Nottingham. in Malaysia. “For this ruling, which is the first of many cases involving this particular scandal, moving in this particular direction is truly a testament to the rule of law in Malaysia and the strengthening of rule of law requirements in Malaysia.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Najib sought to remove Maimun from the case, citing possible bias because her husband made a negative Facebook post about Najib’s leadership shortly after he was ousted in the 2018 general election. judges rejected Najib’s request.

The Federal Court also last week rejected an offer by Najib to seek a retrial for bias from the High Court judge and refused to postpone the appeal to give his new lawyers more time to prepare. The court also rejected a request by Najib’s new lawyer to withdraw from the case.

Maimun, Malaysia’s first female chief justice appointed in 2019, has been attacked on social media by Najib’s supporters. Police arrested a man over the weekend following death threats against Maimun. Hundreds of Najib supporters gathered outside the court to show their support.

The prison sentence will cement Najib’s disgrace. Najib, educated in Britain, was born into Malaysia’s political elite. Her father was the country’s second prime minister and her uncle was the third.

He was thrust into politics in 1976 after the death of his father, becoming Malaysia’s youngest lawmaker at 22 and youngest deputy minister two years later. He became prime minister in 2009 as a reformer, but his tenure was marred by the 1MDB scandal which sparked investigations in the United States and several other countries and brought down his government.

Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate 1MDB-related trials, and his wife is also on trial for corruption.

Najib, who is widely followed on social networks, remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections by lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 elections.

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