Ex-PM Najib’s wife seeks to remove judge ahead of graft verdict

Iskandar Zulkarnain and Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
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Ex-PM Najib’s wife seeks to remove judge ahead of graft verdict Former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor [center] arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court to attend husband and former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 1MDB trial, Aug. 25, 2022.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

After her husband, ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, was sent to prison last week for corruption, former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor is expected to learn on Thursday whether a high court will find her guilty of graft.

Regardless, as Najib did, Rosmah is fighting to the bitter end – even borrowing from his playbook. Rosmah is seeking to remove the judge in her case, saying she lost confidence in him after a purported copy of the ruling was leaked online Aug. 26.

In an application filed on Tuesday, Rosmah cited the 71-page document, which was posted on a website and allegedly contained a guilty judgment against her. She asked that the verdict scheduled for Sept. 1 at the Kuala Lumpur High Court be postponed and that her case be retried. On Thursday, the court is expected to decide on her application.

Rosmah, who as first lady was known for her glamorous lifestyle, is accused of soliciting and accepting bribes to approve a multimillion-dollar solar project, with both charges carrying prison sentences of up to 20 years.

But the verdict by the high court won’t be the end of the road for her or the prosecutors, as both sides can appeal the verdict, first in the Court of Appeal, and then in Federal Court.

Rosmah is unlikely to be sent to prison immediately, if she is convicted, Haniff Khatri, a senior Kuala Lumpur-based criminal lawyer, told BenarNews.

“Rosmah Mansor will not go straight to prison. It is not necessary because in the criminal legal process, an application for stay of execution of imprisonment is quite inevitable,” he said. That is, she would ask for a stay on her prison sentence pending an appeal on her verdict, just like Najib did after he was sentenced to 12 years in 2020.

This will be the first verdict in a case against Rosmah, who is also standing trial in a second case, in which she faces 17 money laundering and tax fraud charges.

‘She wielded considerable influence’

Rosmah was charged with one count of soliciting and two of accepting bribes in November 2018 in a case related to a 1.25 billion ringgit ($279.2 million) solar power project for the Education Department.

She is suspected of having sought and accepted bribes in exchange for helping a company called Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd secure that project to provide solar hybrid energy to more than 300 schools in rural Sarawak, a Malaysian state in Borneo.

The former first lady allegedly solicited 187.5 million ringgit (U.S. $41.89 million) and accepted bribes amounting to 6.5 million ringgit (U.S. $1.45 million) from Jepak.

Rosmah allegedly received the bribes from Saidi Abang Samsudin, Jepak’s managing director, through Rizal Mansor (no relation), her former aide who later turned witness in the trial.

Rizal was initially a co-accused in the case but the charges against him were dropped when he agreed to testify against her.

Rosmah Mansor, wife of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, leaves the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex after attending the first day of her trial, Feb. 5, 2020. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

The trial began in February 2020 and concluded in February this year. The prosecution had called 23 witnesses and the defense 25.

Rosmah maintained her innocence through the trial and claimed there was a conspiracy by witnesses who testified against her, including Rizal.

During her husband’s nine years as prime minister (2009-2018), Rosmah was known for her expensive taste in clothes, jewelry and handbags.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said that Rosmah also had great clout in her husband’s administration.

“By herself, she occupied no official position. However, she wielded considerable influence by reason of her overbearing nature,” prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said in his opening statement when proceedings began at the Kuala Lumpur High Court in February 2020.

Najib lost power when his longtime ruling coalition suffered a shock electoral defeat in 2018, after U.S. and Malaysian authorities exposed a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Najib and Rosmah became the center of a wide-ranging corruption probe related to 1MDB as well as other projects.

In May 2018, police in Kuala Lumpur swooped in on the couple’s properties just days after Mahathir Mohamad succeeded him as prime minister, and found evidence of their ostentatious lifestyle.

During the raids, officers seized more than 500 handbags – mostly made by French luxury brand Hermés – 12,000 pieces of jewelry and 117 million ringgit ($29 million) in cash in different currencies. Officials estimated the total value of all items seized was between 900 million ringgit ($225 million) and 1.1 billion ringgit ($273 million).

‘A straightforward case’

Last week, the Federal Court upheld 69-year-old Najib’s conviction in a case related to 1MDB subsidiary SRC International, and sent him to prison to serve his 12-year sentence for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.

The former PM 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. He could also face trials on 10 additional outstanding charges. 

Since the SRC International verdict, Najib and his supporters have spun a narrative that he didn’t get a fair trial, with the president of his party UMNO going as far as alleging that the ruling was the result of an “agenda.”

Political analyst James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said that a similar narrative would be used in Rosmah’s case, even though she was given the full opportunity to defend herself.

“This is a straightforward case unlike 1Malaysia Development Berhad,” Chin told BenarNews.

“I expect that she will be found guilty.”


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