A day after being convicted on corruption-related charges in the 1MDB financial scandal, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appeared at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Wednesday with his two sons to post 1 million ringgit (U.S. $235,690) in bail.
A key ally who leads Najib’s party, which now anchors Malaysia’s new ruling coalition, meanwhile voiced sympathy for Najib but indicated too that a “political decision” was coming.
And in other related news, Malaysia’s chief of police revealed in an interview Wednesday that fugitive financier Jho Low – a central figure in the scandal that led to the downfall of Najib’s government, and who is better known as Low Taek Jho – was hiding out in Macau.
Najib, 67, secured bail after arriving at the court complex in the early afternoon via a rear entrance, according to images shown on local TV news channels. The ex-prime minister, who held the office from 2008 till 2018, did not make any comments when reporters at the courthouse approached him after he posted bail.
Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Nazlan Ghazali had set a Wednesday deadline in ordering Najib to post the bail money as a condition for granting him a stay on the 12-year prison sentence that he handed the former leader upon convicting him of seven charges tied to the looting of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund.
Tuesday’s ruling, in which the judge also fined Najib 210 million ringgit ($49.3 million), marked the first time that a former head of government in Malaysia was convicted of any crime. It came after public outrage over the 1MDB scandal led to his government’s ouster via the ballot box in May 2018.
Nazlan found Najib guilty of all seven charges stemming from 42 million ringgit (nearly $10 million) that Najib had received illegally from SRC International, a subsidiary of 1MDB. Najib was convicted on one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust and three counts of money laundering.
Nazlan allowed a stay on the prison sentence and the monetary penalty, pending a planned appeal by the former prime minister in the wake of the first of Najib’s corruption trials linked to 1MDB.
The 1 million ringgit payment that Najib made on Wednesday was on top of 6 million ringgit ($1.41 million) in bail money he had already posted over a total of 42 charges against him in the various 1MDB cases.
“This is definitely not the end of the world, because there’s a process of appeal, and we hope that we would be successful there,” Najib told reporters at the courthouse on Tuesday night.
UMNO, opposition react
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) – Najib’s party – who had sat next to the former prime minister during Tuesday’s courtroom deliberations, told reporters afterwards, “surely, we will make a political decision as a result of today’s decision.”
Zahid, Najib’s former deputy prime minister, also posted a message on his Facebook page saying that “we agree with the court’s decision.”
He said he was saddened by the ruling, adding he believed “Najib is a resilient and brave person.”
“I call on all party leaders at all levels and party members and supporters to calm down. We believe Najib still has room to get justice through the country's legal process,” Zahid said on Facebook.
On Wednesday, Zahid posted a new statement saying that UMNO and other partners in its Barisan Nasional coalition would work with their allies in the Perikatan Nasional government in responding to the outcome of the trial.
“UMNO and BN will handle this court ruling with the best way we can, while at the same time defending the spirit of friendship with allies of BN, Muafakat Nasional and Perikatan Nasional,” he said.
“Honesty and sincerity in sharing power, as well as friendship, continues to be the main pillar and will be maintained,” he added.
On the other side of the Malaysian political aisle, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim praised the verdict.
“For over a decade the 1MDB scandal has been a blight on our nation’s reputation and has been the source of much anguish for the Malaysian people,” Anwar said in social media posts.
“Money which should have been utilized for development and assisting the poor was diverted to illicit gains benefiting a former prime minister and his friends.”
Anwar, the head of the People’s Justice Party, had helped lead the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) alliance defeat Najib’s government in the 2018 general election on a campaign pledge of ridding government of corruption. However, the Pakatan government collapsed in February amid infighting and was replaced by a non-elected government headed by Muhyiddin Yassin.
On Wednesday, Anwar told CNBC that the ruling gave “renewed hope for Malaysians in general who were upset with the recent political development.”
Jho Low in Macau
Meanwhile, Malaysian Police Inspector-General Abdul Hamid Bador said that Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of the plundering of billions from 1MDB, was in Macau, a semi-autonomous territory in China, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
“He is there [in Macau] with all the filthy money,” the police chief told AFP.
When the news service asked him why he had chosen to reveal Jho Low’s location only now, he said allegations had been made that officers were “purposely slowing down on the effort to bring him to justice.”
It was the first time any Malaysian chief of police had revealed the whereabouts of the fugitive financier. Speculative reports had previously placed Jho Low in other countries, including China and the United Arab Emirates.
According to Malaysian news reports on Wednesday, the police chief said Kuala Lumpur had not received any assistance from Chinese authorities in trying to extradite Jho Low.
“Efforts to bring Jho Low home have been ongoing for a long time. However until now, there has not been any convincing responses from the [People’s] Republic,” Malay Mail quoted Abdul Hamid as telling Utusan Malaysia, a Malay publication.
But the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur rejected the police chief’s claim.
Embassy spokesperson Tang Tang said Chinese authorities had looked into all leads provided by Malaysian police on Jho Low’s whereabouts but was unable to find him.
“The Chinese police has followed and investigated meticulously each and every relevant clue we received from the Malaysian police, in a sincere and responsible manner,” Tang said.
“Unfortunately, no relevant individuals have been found and the Malaysian side has been informed accordingly. The above-mentioned accusations are groundless and unacceptable.”