Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been sentenced to serve 12 years in jail after a court in Kuala Lumpur found him guilty of corruption in the first of several cases linked to the alleged theft of billions of dollars from the state fund, 1MDB.
Tuesday’s ruling makes Najib the first Malaysian leader to be convicted of corruption.
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But the 67-year-old remains free as Judge Mohamad Nazlan Ghazali granted a stay order on the execution of Najib’s sentence, pending an appeal.
“Surely, I am not satisfied with the result,” Najib told reporters as he exited Kuala Lumpur’s High Court.
“But within our system, the high court is the first court and the decision was only made by one judge. We have the benefit of an appeal,” he added, vowing to “continue the effort to clear my name”.
The guilty verdict against Najib relates to his role in diverting an estimated 42 million ringgit ($9.87m) from SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, into his personal bank accounts. The judge had found the former prime minister guilty on all seven charges filed against him.
“I find that the prosecution has successfully proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I therefore find the accused guilty and convict the accused on all seven charges,” Mohamad said.
|Malaysia’s Najib guilty of all charges in 1MDB-linked graft case (2:30)|
He then ordered Najib to pay a fine of 210 million ringgit ($49m) and gave him 12 years in jail on one count of abuse of power, 10 years each for three counts of criminal breach of trust and 10 years each for three counts of money laundering.
But the judge also ordered the sentences to run concurrently, meaning Najib will serve 12 years in prison.
The conviction comes just six days after the high court ordered Najib to pay the government as much as 1.69 billion ringgit ($400m) in unpaid taxes and penalties, covering the years from 2011 to 2017.
Prior to the sentencing, Datuk V Sithambaram, the lead prosecutor in the case, had called for a ruling that serves “as a precedent for all in public office that no one is above the law”.
Najib then took the dock to defend himself, insisting that he was not aware of the SRC payment into his bank accounts.
“I did not demand the 42 million nor was it offered to me. There is no witness who can say so,” he said.
Prosecutors had argued that Najib played a direct role and gave instructions to deposit the 42 million ringgit into his bank accounts, which was later used for political funding, the purchase of luxury goods and renovations on his property.
But the former prime minister’s lead defence lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, said Najib was “not part of the conspiracy” to the defraud the government, laying the blame on party-loving fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low.
When news of the guilty verdict reached Najib’s supporters gathered outside Kuala Lumpur’s High Court some cried while others shouted, “Long live my boss.” Some also condemned the judge’s verdict as “political vengeance”.
— Ted Regencia تِد (@tedregencia) July 28, 2020
Later when Najib exited the court building, the defiant crowd cheered and chanted his name.
Lim Wei Jiet, a Malaysian constitutional lawyer, called Tuesday’s ruling “historical” because it marked the first time a former leader has been convicted of an offence.
Suspension of sentences pending an appeal was normal, he said.
“It is not over yet. Having said that, it doesn’t mean we can’t stop and appreciate that this is a small step in the rejuvenation of the rule of law in Malaysia. Only two years back, there was a state-sanctioned attempt to silent any form of dissent regarding 1MDB. Today, at the very least, there is some form of vindication for those who dared to stand up against the powers that be, often at great personal risk.”
The United States Department of Justice alleges $4.5bn in government money had been drained from 1MDB during Najib’s time as prime minister. The scandal at 1MDB fuelled mass protests and led to the downfall of Najib’s government in May 2018.
The former leader has faced three separate trials in relation to 1MDB so far.
— Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (@DrZahidHamidi) July 28, 2020
The second case against Najib covers several charges, including 21 counts of money laundering involving $550m directly from 1MDB, while the third case, which started on November 18, relates to the alleged abuse of power and cover-up of an audit report at 1MDB.
Two more trials are also pending.
But Najib has remained free on bail despite the charges against him, criticising the policies of his former mentor, Mahathir Mohamad and the coalition that replaced him.
Mahathir himself was forced to leave the job in March this year, after a group of disgruntled former members of his coalition, backed by Najib’s party, UMNO, pledged their support to the current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed