Malaysian Appeals Court Upholds Former PM Najib’s 12-Year Sentence

Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-12-08
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Malaysian Appeals Court Upholds Former PM Najib’s 12-Year Sentence A woman watches as former Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to reporters after the Court of Appeal verdict upholding his conviction, Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 8, 2021.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET on 2021-12-08

Malaysia’s Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld the conviction and 12-year prison sentence of former Prime Minister Najib Razak on corruption charges in a case related to the 1MDB financial scandal, saying his role in it was a “national embarrassment.”

The verdict by the country’s second highest court has temporarily halted the popular former PM’s political comeback, but Najib said he would appeal to the nation’s highest Federal Court to dismiss the conviction upheld by Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil.

“We find that there is proper consideration by the learned trial judge of all factors that are relevant to be taken into consideration in sentencing. … The terms of imprisonment and fine imposed are wholly adequate and commensurate with the nature of the offences,” the court said.

“Wherefore, we dismiss the appellant’s appeal against conviction on all seven charges and affirm the High Court’s conviction of the appellant,” it added, even as Najib supporters gathered outside the courthouse.

In July 2020, Najib was convicted on charges including abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering over allegations that he had illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.9 million) from SRC International, a subsidiary of sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In addition to the sentence, the Kuala Lumpur High Court fined Najib 210 million ringgit (U.S. $50 million).

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal also granted Najib a stay on his prison sentence pending a decision on his appeal. The lower court had granted him a similar stay last year after he posted bail of 1 million ringgit ($236,700).

The Court of Appeal said Najib had not acted in the national interest, nor did the 42 million ringgit come from Saudi royals, as he had claimed.

“We are in full agreement that Najib knew that funds entering his personal accounts are proceeds from unlawful activities,” it ruled. “This is no national interest as the appellant claimed for SRC. This is a national embarrassment.”

Najib defiant

The former prime minister and his defense attorneys watched the ruling via Zoom because they were under a COVID-19 quarantine.

“I would like to say that I’m very disappointed in the judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal this morning. I have asked my lawyers to file an immediate appeal to the Federal Court. The central issue with respect to the SRC case revolves around the 42 million that was transferred to my personal account,” Najib told reporters afterwards.

“As a Muslim, I have sworn in the name of Allah that I didn’t know nor did I ask for it, nor did I direct anyone for that amount to be transferred to my personal account,” he said.

Najib also challenged the judge’s claim the case was a “national embarrassment,” even as these words were trending on social media.

“As you know during my tenure as PM, the total assets of the country under my watch grew from 800 billion to 2 trillion ringgit, therefore I created a lot of wealth in the country,” Najib said.

“If you talk about national embarrassment there are other scandalous issues – for example the scandal surrounding forex issue which led to the loss of 31 billion ringgit. If you put that in context isn’t that a much more colossal in that perspective,” he said.

The former PM was referring to a period between 1991 and 1994 when the central bank suffered those losses in foreign exchange transactions.

Najib is standing trial in another court on 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from 1MDB, the fund he created.

Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors alleged that at least $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014 in a financial scandal that implicated foreign and local financial institutions and high-ranking officials, including Najib.

211208-MY-najib-inside.jpg
Supporters of former Prime Minister Najib Razak wearing red headbands emblazoned with “Bebas Bossku” (free my boss) gather outside the court complex in Putrajaya, Dec. 8, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

One more appeal

Defense attorney Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said Najib would remain a member of parliament while waiting for his appeals to be exhausted at the Federal Court.

If the Federal Court upholds his conviction and sentence, Najib cannot run for any elected office.

The lead prosecutor said his team will wait for the appeal and respond as warranted.

“The court in essence found that the decision made by the high court judge is not erroneous, according to law and facts,” lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram told reporters in Putrajaya, adding he expects the federal court to respond more quickly.

A 15-day hearing on Najib’s appeal of the conviction ended in May.

Sithambaram said the “defense team put up a strong fight on virtually all issues and they objected to many issues. It is their right.”

Following the ruling, the youth chief of Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party held out hope for Najib.

“Respect the court decision. There is still chance to appeal at the Federal Court,” Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki wrote on social media.

A political scientist, meanwhile, said it was time for UMNO, which Najib led for years while serving as prime minister, to move on.

“Good day for rule of law in Malaysia. Najib Razak’s appeal was soundly rejected by Court of Appeal. Sadly 1MDB/Najib saga continues with further appeals, martyr narratives & tests of integrity of system ahead,” tweeted Bridget Welsh, a political scientist and academician at the University of Nottingham Malaysia.

“Misperceptions of Najib comeback are overrated. UMNO needs new leadership.”

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