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Lawyers for ex-PM Najib Razak say they will submit a fresh application for a full pardon at the ‘right timing’. File photo: Reuters

Malaysia 1MDB scandal: watchdog warns of protests over leniency for Najib and ‘political elite’

  • Critics have accused PM Anwar of abandoning his reform agenda as anger grows over the reduced sentence for ex-leader Najib for graft linked to the 1MDB scandal
  • Election watchdog Bersih 2.0 warned it ‘won’t hesitate to mobilise the people to take to the streets’ over the leniency showed to corrupt politicians
Malaysia’s government must account for its role in the reduced sentence given to ex-leader Najib Razak and other corruption-tainted “political elites”, a coalition of civil society groups said on Wednesday, threatening street protests as anger billows out over leniency to corrupt politicians.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is facing flak over last week’s decision by the country’s pardons board to halve the 12-year jail sentence of disgraced former premier Najib for graft linked to the theft of huge sums of taxpayers’ money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad ( 1MDB) state fund.

Najib’s fine was also slashed to 50 million ringgit (US$10.5 million) from 210 million ringgit.

‘Don’t take us for fools’: Malaysians slam Najib’s reduction in jail time

Critics have accused Anwar of abandoning his loudly-trumpeted reform agenda for political expediency – his coalition is stacked with Najib allies.

“The government’s failure to be transparent regarding the advice submitted to the pardons board indicates a disregard for the people’s right to know the truth,” election watchdog Bersih 2.0 said in a statement.

Anwar has said he made sure the pardon’s board received Najib’s application.

The group, which organised mass street protests against Najib while he was in power, said the reduced sentence was just the latest “reward” doled out by Anwar’s administration to “political elites”.

“This situation sends a strong signal that the people can no longer remain silent, as the trajectory for institutional and political reform in the country veers off course,” Bersih said.

“Bersih will not hesitate to mobilise the people to take to the streets, as this is the language best understood by those comfortably in power, regardless of the various excuses given.”

The 1MDB logo is seen on a hoarding in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 3, 2015. Photo: AFP

Najib’s lawyers on Wednesday said the former leader was “not totally happy” he did not secure a full pardon, adding that they had argued in their application he had not been given a fair trial.

His lead counsel, Shafee Abdullah, claimed there were numerous discrepancies over the entire course of Najib’s trial, and that those were sufficient grounds for his client to be acquitted and discharged.

“The pardon is about fair trial. It has got nothing to do with whether he admitted [guilt] or not,” Shafee told a news conference.

“Datuk Seri Najib should not in prison, not even for a day, because his constitutional right has been taken away,” he said, using the former premier’s honorifics.

Shafee said they were now waiting for the “right timing” to submit a fresh application for a full pardon.


The legacy of Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal on politics and corruption-fighting

The legacy of Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal on politics and corruption-fighting

Najib, 70, was jailed in 2022 after failing to overturn a corruption conviction involving 42 million ringgit in funds funnelled through SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

He denies all wrongdoing and faces at least three other trials linked to the scandal-tainted state fund.

The courts last year, at the request of the attorney general, dropped dozens of corruption charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the current leader of Najib’s Umno party.
The decision by the board, chaired by former king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah in his last act before ending his five-year term as monarch on January 30, came as a separate corruption crackdown targeted the families of Anwar’s rival Mahathir Mohamad and his close associate Daim Zainuddin.
Malaysia’s former King, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah. Photo: Reuters

Najib’s reduced sentence means he must be released no later than August 23, 2028, the board said on Friday. However, he could qualify for parole as early as the end of next year, according to provisions under the Prison Act.

Anwar on Monday urged the public to move on from the Najib case, saying the decision by Sultan Abdullah was guided by “compassion”.

“His majesty is what is described as a fountain of mercy,” Anwar said, adding that it was the king’s prerogative to decide whether to issue an explanation for the decision.

But criticism continues to strike his administration.

While it is true that justice must be tempered with mercy, it is also true that mercy must not rob justice
Karen Cheah, Malaysian Bar president

Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah said Anwar’s government had “lost its moral authority” in dealing with corruption, especially due to the “rippling effect” that the 1MDB scandal has had on Malaysians.

“Each Malaysian citizen took it as a personal betrayal of the power and trust entrusted to Najib as a prime minister, when he abused his power and pilfered from the nation’s coffers – monies that should have been used to develop Malaysia for the benefit of Malaysians,” Cheah said in a statement on Tuesday.

“While it is true that justice must be tempered with mercy, it is also true that mercy must not rob justice,” she added.

The decision also drove a wedge in already-fractious ties between parties in Anwar’s unity government.

Anwar’s purge? Malaysia’s corruption crackdown has PM’s rivals in its sights

Police on Monday questioned former MP Tony Pua of the influential Democratic Action Party (DAP), after complaints were filed over his social media posts calling Najib “King Klep” – short for kleptocrat – and for mocking the reduced fine by offering to be sent to jail for a year in exchange for 50 million ringgit.

The police reports were filed by the youth wing of erstwhile rivals Umno, which until recently had routinely painted DAP as communists bent on usurping the political power of the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Najib’s political fortunes plummeted in 2018 when he and his then-ruling Umno party were booted out of power as public anger raged over the billions of dollars believed to have been siphoned out of 1MDB.

Authorities acted swiftly in the aftermath of the national polls, detaining Najib and his flamboyant wife Rosmah Mansor and seizing hundreds of luxury handbags and watches, thousands of pieces of jewellery and cash in 26 different currencies in raids on residences linked to the once-powerful couple.

Police estimated the seized items were potentially valued at more than 1 billion ringgit.