Malaysian Court Allows Convicted Ex-PM Najib to Travel Abroad

Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-10-18
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Malaysian Court Allows Convicted Ex-PM Najib to Travel Abroad Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, Malaysia, April 5, 2021.
Reuters

Malaysians expressed shock and disbelief Monday after a court granted a request by former Prime Minister Najib Razak to travel to Singapore for his grandchild’s birth, although he was convicted last year on charges stemming from a massive corruption scandal.

Najib can have his passport back temporarily so he can make the trip to the neighboring city-state, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal ruled, the state-run Bernama news agency reported.

“The court found that there were reasonable grounds for this application,” said Judge Kamaludin Md. Said, the head of the panel, according to Bernama, which was the only news outlet allowed to send a reporter to the courtroom due to pandemic restrictions.

“The court allows this application and the passport will be returned,” the judge ruled in a verdict that was unanimous.

It will be the ex-PM’s first trip abroad since authorities confiscated his passport and blocked him from leaving Malaysia after his UMNO party crashed out in the 2018 general election. The party is back in power.

Citizens on social media, an anti-corruption activist, and a prominent lawyer were among those criticizing the decision to allow Najib, who is appealing last year’s conviction and is also standing trial in a second case tied to the 1MDB scandal, to go to Singapore.

They also expressed dismay with the prosecution not objecting when the panel agreed to hear Najib’s application to regain access to his passport.

Cynthia Gabriel of the Center for Combating Corruption and Cronyism (C4), said it was “ridiculous” that the prosecution did not object.

“A convicted criminal in court is allowed to travel [abroad]? But PTPTN borrowers cannot leave the country!” she said on Twitter, referring to the National Higher Education Fund Corporation by its more common acronym.

Borrowers who are blacklisted for failing to pay their education loans with government funds are not allowed to leave the country if they have not settled their debts with PTPTN.

Regional analyst James Chin captured what many Malaysians on social media were expressing when he said that people were “disgusted” by the court’s decision allowing Najib to travel.

“Many cannot understand how a guilty person can travel,” Chin said on Twitter.

“Most think it’s a done deal that they will get away with the 1MBD scam.”

Tainted former first couple

In May 2018, the then-new government of Mahathir Mohamad barred Najib and his wife Rosmah from leaving the country amid international money-laundering probes linked to billions of dollars allegedly siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a state fund that Najib had started in 2009 to spur development in his country.

In July 2018, Najib was required to surrender his two diplomatic passports after he was charged with criminal breach of trust and abuse of power in connection with the 1MDB scandal.

Last year, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Najib guilty of one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust, and three counts of money-laundering over allegations that he had illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.67 million) from SRC International, a 1MDB subsidiary.

Najib filed an application to get his passport back on Friday, the same day that his wife, Rosmah Mansor, got permission from the high court to temporarily access her passport to travel abroad.

Rosmah, who is facing a criminal trial related to corruption involving a school solar panel project in Sarawak, had been asked to surrender her passport as a condition of bail after being charged with graft in 2019.

The former first couple’s daughter, Nooryana Najwa Najib, 33, is expected to give birth to her second child in Singapore in about two weeks.

The court allowed Najib access to his passport from Oct. 20 until Nov. 22. Rosmah can travel from Oct. 22, but must return to Malaysia by Nov. 21 and surrender her passport to the court on or before Dec. 6.

The former PM was the third person facing a criminal trial to get access to his or her passport since last Monday when Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the president of Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), was similarly granted his request.

UMNO returned to power unelected in August, three years after it was swept out of power by a wave of popular criticism in the wake of the looting of 1MDB. Early last year, the party regained a great deal of power when it became a member of Malaysia’s then-ruling coalition headed by Muhyiddin Yassin.

Muhammad Rafique, a prominent criminal lawyer, said Rosmah and Zahid’s trials were still ongoing, which made their cases different from convicted criminal Najib’s.

“The risk of [Najib’s] absconding, however slight, still remains,” Rafique told BenarNerws.

The temporary release of travel documents was done at the discretion of the court, the lawyer said.

“But the Attorney General’s chamber not objecting leaves much to be desired,” he said, referring to the prosecution.

“If this is the stance of the prosecution, we hope that normal ordinary folks also get the same treatment.”

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