An appeal is certainly on the cards for Najib Razak, who now seeks to overturn the 12-year jail sentence handed to him on Tuesday. For many Malaysians, however, that does not matter as much as the fact that the former Malaysian prime minister’s guilt over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal has been confirmed in a court of law.
It has been five years since the Wall Street Journal first ran the exposé on Najib alleging that he had siphoned RM2.672 billion from the state-owned investment firm into his personal bank accounts with the help of Malaysian financier Jho Low.
Najib was found guilty of seven charges relating to the misappropriation of RM42 million in funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd, a dummy corporation associated with 1MDB. He was handed 10 years each for three criminal breach of trust offences under Section 409 of the Penal Code; and another 10 years each for three counts of money laundering under Section 4(1)(b) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001. The sentences add up to 72 years jail; however, they will run concurrently, bringing Najib’s jail sentence to the aforementioned 12 years.
These years have been especially tumultuous for activists and opposition MPs who fought, and later hit the streets with thousands of other Malaysians, in calling for his resignation from the nation’s top post. “We finally feel vindicated,” said artist-activist Fahmi Reza in an interview this week with Reuters. Fahmi, who has since updated the caricature in a recent post, was once sentenced to jail for his now-famous caricature of Najib in clown makeup.
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No stranger to the police lockup himself, Fahmi said that so many activists had been “unjustly arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to jail for speaking out against his corruption and abuse of power”.
Others who have run against the authorities include Mandeep Singh, a member of the TangkapNajib (“Arrest Najib”) movement, himself arrested in 2015 for a street protest against Najib; and Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the editor of the Sarawak Report, who had a series of arrest warrants issued against her for the 1MDB exposés her publication ran.
Najib’s sentencing has since been covered by various newspapers worldwide, including Australian paper The West Australian, who ran the blistering headline “Plundering Idiot” in a full-page piece.
Suratkhabar The West Australian panggil @NajibRazak “Plundering Idiot” dalam headline berita mereka. ‘Plundering idiot’ boleh diterjemahkan sebagai penjarah bodoh atau penyamun bangang. Memalukan negara. pic.twitter.com/87xV0cFGNa
— Fahmi Reza (@kuasasiswa) July 30, 2020
Last-gasp bid for freedom
Najib, who also faces a RM210 million fine in lieu of five years’ jail, has paid RM1 million in bail – a court-ordered top-up of the RM1 million in bail he already paid when he was first charged. This is one of the two conditions for him to be released pending an appeal to the Court of Appeal, as the former leader still denies his guilt in the tangled 1MDB affair.
The appeal process will potentially be lengthy one, meaning it could be years before he serves his time in jail.
Najib’s lawyers say he was misled by Jho Low and other 1MDB officials into believing that the funds banked in his accounts were donated by the Saudi royal family. Judge Mohamad Nazlan said the supposed deception was “far-fetched” to believe, asking also why Najib never questioned Low’s donation claim.
Najib’s lawmaker status – he remains the MP for the town of Pekan, Pahang – will be disqualified if his conviction remains after appeal.
James Chin, a leading political expert and professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, told the New York Times that he expected Najib’s case would be overturned on appeal, as long as his party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), holds the government.
Umno recently returned to power following the toppling of the Pakatan Harapan government, and now holds a position in the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition, which is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the current president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and also an erstwhile Umno politician.
His daughter, Nooryana Najwa, has rushed to Najib’s defence, saying that the fight for him “still continues” in an Instagram story. “This is not the end guys. We are disappointed but we don’t quit,” wrote the 33-year-old, who had paid the RM1 million for her father’s bail, adding that she promised to respond to supporters online.
About a thousand people gathered outside the courts in Najib’s support as well, drawing criticism online for their disregard of social distancing practices. Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah himself voiced disappointment over the matter, saying that his ministry would monitor the situation and see in two weeks if a new infection cluster would form.
“If there is, we will carry out case detection and contact tracing,” he said. “It is sad to see this situation where there is no self-control”.
Sudah terang lagi bersuluh setiap hari Kementerian Kesihatan mengingatkan rakyat Malaysia untuk patuh kepada SOP untuk penjarakan selamat sekurang-kurangnya 1 meter, memakai pelitup separuh muka dan kerap cuci tangan. Sedih bila melihat keadaan begini tiada kawalan kendiri.
— Noor Hisham Abdullah (@DGHisham) July 28, 2020