Court sentences Najib's wife to 10 years for bribery

Muzliza Mustafa and Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
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Court sentences Najib's wife to 10 years for bribery Rosmah Mansor, center, wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, waves as she leaves the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 1, 2022. Rosmah was convicted Thursday of bribery during her husband’s administration.
[Vincent Thian/AP]

Updated at 4:26 p.m. ET on 2022-09-01

A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced former first lady Rosmah Mansor to 10 years in prison for bribery during the administration of her husband, Najib Razak, the former prime minister who was put behind bars last week for corruption.

Rosmah, 70, who was known for her lavish lifestyle and fondness for Hermès Birkin bags, was fined 970 million ringgit (U.S. $216 million) for seeking and taking bribes in exchange for helping a company secure a government contract.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court stayed her sentence pending an appeal.

The prosecutors had succeeded in proving the case against the defendant, High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan ruled in delivering a 116-page judgment.

“The accused has failed to rebut the prosecution on a balance of probabilities on all three charges. ... The accused is therefore guilty on all three charges,” Mohamed Zaini said.

The former first lady had been charged with soliciting 187.5 million ringgit (U.S. $41.89 million) in bribes and accepting 6.5 million ringgit (U.S. $1.45 million) in bribes from the company, Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd, to help it land a contract to provide solar hybrid energy to more than 300 schools in rural Sarawak, a Malaysian state in Borneo.

The judge sentenced Rosmah to 10 years on each of the charges, with the sentences to run concurrently, in addition to fining her. He warned that she could be ordered to serve the sentences consecutively plus an additional 10 years – bringing her sentence to 40 years – if she failed to pay the fine.

Earlier in the day, after the judge spent much of the morning listening to arguments made by Rosmah’s defense team, he dismissed their application seeking his removal from the case and a retrial after a purported copy of the verdict was leaked online last week.

Rosmah, for her part, asked the court for leniency.

“Look at me as a woman, have compassion and some humanity,” she pleaded.

She also told the court about her efforts to help the nation’s children.

“I was once first lady and I even contributed through Permata and the setting up of a court to deal with sexual harassment of children,” she said referring to the country’s early childhood learning program to help troubled children or children with autism.

Rosmah’s lawyers listed six mitigating factors regarding sentencing, the judge’s order said.

The factors included: “[T]he accused is a single mother, as her husband, Najib had recently been found guilty and sentenced to twelve years imprisonment commencing from 23 August 2022. She is the one taking care of the household including her grandchildren;” and “She is a housewife with no source of income, and has no savings to pay any fines imposed.”

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.

A body guard and aides escort former Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor from the Kuala Lumpur court complex following her bribery conviction, Sept. 1, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

‘Message to would-be offenders’

The former first couple’s fall from grace began when Najib’s longtime ruling coalition suffered a shock electoral defeat in May 2018, after U.S. and Malaysian authorities exposed a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, which pulled off a stunning election victory, promptly launched an investigation into 1MDB. Najib, Rosmah, their children and close associates were investigated for alleged crimes including corruption, money laundering, criminal breach of trust and tax evasion.

That same month, police conducted searches of Najib’s properties and seized hundreds of designer handbags, more than 10,000 pieces of jewelry and 117 million ringgit in cash of different currencies. Officials estimated the value of the items seized and cash was between 900 million and 1.1 billion ringgit ($200 million and $245 million).

In court on Thursday, Rosmah’s defense team led by lawyer Jagjit Singh sought a one-day prison sentence and a reasonable fine.

What she got instead was the largest fine handed imposed by a Malaysian court, Singh said.

“The fine is nearly 1 billion ringgit. Who can afford to pay such an amount,” he told reporters gathered in the lobby of the Kuala Lumpur court building.

For his part, lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said the sentence should serve as a deterrent for others.

“We are not here to say that we are happy or not happy with the sentencing. We are just doing our job,” he told reporters.

“Sentencing is never easy. The judge thought 10 years was fair,” he said, adding his team does not plan to appeal. “The purpose of this trial is to send a clear message to would-be offenders and to stop them in their tracks.”

Rosmah’s lawyers, on the other hand, said they would appeal the ruling.

Meanwhile, Rosmah faces a second trial on 17 charges of money laundering and tax evasion for allegedly receiving 7.1 million ringgit ($1.6 million) between 2013 and 2017, in a separate case.

‘Victory for rule of law’

Reactions to the verdict in Rosmah’s case were mixed.

Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow with the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, said the court showed that the prosecution proved the charges beyond reasonable doubt – which led to the prison sentence and fine.

“Rosmah Mansor still has two chances – appeal court and federal court to appeal the verdict. I think we need to wait and see what will happen after this,” he told BenarNews.

Bridget Welsh, a local political analyst, praised the verdict.

“The decision is another victory for the rule of law. Unelected Rosmah, arguably was one of the most influential figures during the Najib administration and was seen by many to abuse her power. Now, one fewer man and woman above the law,” she said on Twitter.

“Much less sympathy in Malaysia and UMNO for her, as some blame her for Najib’s downfall.”

Political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi, however, believed that many UMNO supporters would be upset that Najib and Rosmah both were found guilty.

“Truth be told, the conviction of Rosmah and Najib in Malay culture is considered inappropriate because they have contributed so much to the country with various transformations,” the associate professor at University Malaya told BenarNews.

“This influences so many conservative UMNO voters.”


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