Malaysian court rejects Najib’s plea to serve prison sentence at home

The ex-prime minister claimed the former king signed a document freeing him from jail.
Minderjeet Kaur
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian court rejects Najib’s plea to serve prison sentence at home Escorted by prison officers, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court complex for a hearing, April 4, 2024.
Vincent Thian/AP

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bid to serve the rest of his prison term under house arrest failed Wednesday when a Malaysian court rejected his request for the government to produce a document linked to a royal decision to cut his sentence. 

Amarjeet Singh, the Kuala Lumpur High Court judge, ruled that the former leader would have to stay behind bars because his application was not proven and based on hearsay. The ex-PM, who was convicted in 2020 for abuse of power and other crimes tied to the theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund, can appeal Wednesday’s ruling. 

His supporters said they had seen a picture of an addendum signed by then-King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah allowing Najib to serve the remainder of his sentence at home.

“I find that the applicant’s affidavits are, at the highest, pure hearsay,” the judge said in court. 

Earlier this year, the Federal Territories Pardons Board, which is overseen by the king, halved Najib’s prison sentence in his SRC International case, to six years, and reduced his fine, from 210 million ringgit (U.S. $44.5 million) to 50 million ringgit ($10.6 million). Najib is serving his sentence in Kajang prison, near Kuala Lumpur.

In a petition filed on April 1, Najib claimed that the king had issued the supplementary decree during the Jan. 29 board meeting, a day before the monarch’s term on Malaysia’s rotating throne ended. The former prime minister’s team claimed that the supplementary decree was not announced by the board on Feb. 2 and that the government was in contempt for not executing it.

Amarjeet said Najib’s request was based on statements by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who said he saw a photograph of the addendum on the phone of Tengku Zafrul Aziz, the minister of Investment, Trade and Industry.

“Ahmad Zahid himself has no knowledge of the addendum order except what he heard from Tengku Zafrul,” Amarjeet said, adding that Pahang state Chief Minister Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail’s affirmation of the order was based on hearsay as well.

In May, the high court rejected Tengku Zafrul’s bid to file an affidavit to “correct certain errors” over the supplementary order, ruling that there was no legal provision enabling a non-party to a judicial review proceeding to take such action.

Plan to appeal

Najib was not in court on Wednesday but his lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, accused the government of playing hide and seek with the information.

“So, the alarming thing is that no individual from the government has said [anything]. If it doesn’t exist, just say it doesn’t exist, don’t waste time,” Shafee told reporters following the ruling.

03 MY-Najib2.JPG
Defense attorney Shafee Abdullah speaks to reporters after a High Court judge ruled against former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s request to finish serving his prison sentence at home, July 3, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

He warned that the truth would come out eventually. He said his team planned to appeal and was considering filing a writ of action, which would require prosecutors to respond to defense claims about the addendum.

“Today, the government can remain mute and deaf. They can do that now, but I can assure you one day in the future the matter will come out because there is an addendum,” Shafee said. “I can foresee how many government servants and politicians will get into trouble because it means they lied to the court, to the public on a public interest matter that affects the public.” 

2020 conviction

Four years ago, the Kuala Lumpur High Court convicted Najib of one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust, and three counts of money laundering for illegally receiving money from SRC International, a unit of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 

Najib began serving a 12-year sentence in August 2022 after the Federal Court dismissed his final appeal in the case. He could be eligible for parole by the end of 2025.

The ex-PM faces trials in separate cases directly linked to 1MDB, a state fund he set up to spur the economy, including a trial connected to 2.3 billion ringgit (U.S. $487 million) that allegedly went missing from the fund and into his accounts. 

Investigators estimate that more than $4.5 billion was plundered from 1MDB through fraudulent shell companies to corrupt government and bank officials and their associates.


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