Najib Razak has become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to go to prison after the country’s top court upheld his corruption conviction and 12-year jail sentence, in a case linked to the multibillion-dollar scandal at the 1MDB state fund.
Malaysians on Twitter called Tuesday’s verdict historic and said they hoped it would send a “strong warning to other politicians who even think of siphoning public funds”, while Najib’s political opponents hailed it as proof of judicial independence in the country.
Najib’s jailing marked a stunning fall for a politician who, until four years ago, had governed Malaysia with an iron grip and suppressed local investigations of the looting of the 1MDB fund. Investigators have said some $4.5bn was stolen from the state fund – cofounded by Najib in 2009 to supposedly drive new investment in Malaysia – and that more than $1bn went to accounts linked to the former prime minister.
The 69-year-old was taken to the Kajang Prison, about 40km (25 miles) away from the capital Kuala Lumpur.
“This is unprecedented. Najib will be remembered for his many firsts, the first prime minister to lose a general election, the first to be convicted,” said Adib Zalkapli, director at political-risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.
The British-educated son of Malay nobility, whose father and uncle were the country’s second and third prime ministers, respectively, held the premiership from 2009 to 2018. He was toppled when public anger over the fraud scandal brought election defeat.
Dozens of corruption charges were lodged in the following months.
Najib was found guilty by a lower court in July 2020 of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering for illegally receiving about $10m from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB. He had been out on bail pending appeals.
“Let’s take a moment to soak this in,” wrote Rohan Javet Beg in a Twitter post.
“Najib Tun Razak, a former PM and heir of an esteemed political dynasty, both of which should have made him untouchable in Malaysia, has been tried and convicted in a court of law.
“This should be the norm. Not the exception.”
Let's take a moment to soak this in.
Najib Tun Razak, a former PM and heir of an esteemed political dynasty, both of which should've made him untouchable in Malaysia, has been tried and convicted for his crimes in a court of law.
This should be the norm. Not the exception.
— Rohan Javet Beg (@RohanBeg) August 23, 2022
Lim Wei Jet said the fact that Malaysia’s “most powerful man can be held accountable in courts sends a positive message on our nation’s judicial independence” and said he hoped the verdict served as a warning to all politicians.
“Judgment day may be delayed, but it will eventually arrive.”
Twitter user, Freyr, called Najib the “epitome of political corruption” in Malaysia and said that having him sent to jail during the month that Malaysia marks its independence from the British is “absolutely glorious”.
“Najib is in jail because Malaysians came out in 2018 and voted,” wrote Twitter user, Qyria. “Have hope, don’t give up.”
Others wished Najib a “safe trip” to prison.
Najib is in jail because Malaysians came out in 2018 AND VOTED.
Have hope, don't give up.
— Qyira 🏴 #LAWAN (@takterqyira) August 23, 2022
Leader of the Opposition Anwar Ibrahim meanwhile said the decision “proves that the people are in power”.
“The people made a decision in 2018 to ensure an independent judiciary and a country free from corruption,” he said. “It is the people’s decision that allows the judiciary to make professional and courageous decisions based on the facts and the law instead of political dictators and the powerful people we have seen for decades.”
Najib faces several more trials over the 1MDB allegations but remains politically influential in Malaysia. His United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leads the current government after the defections of legislators caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri is yet to comment on Najib’s jailing.
But UMNO said it would stand by the disgraced former prime minister. Party President Ahmed Zahid Hamidi, who also faces 47 charges over the 1MDB scandal, said on Wednesday that the court’s decision “cannot erase the great service of Najib as a prime minister who brought Malaysia up as a beacon of success”.
Najib could now apply for a review of the Federal Court decision, though such applications are rarely successful. He can also seek a royal pardon. If successful, he could be released without serving the full 12-year term.
Malaysia’s longest-serving leader Mahathir Mohamad told Bloomberg News ahead of Tuesday’s verdict that he saw a “50-50 chance” that Najib will eventually receive a pardon.
“Of course he’s going to ask for a pardon,” Mahathir said on Monday. “There is that 50-50 chance that he will succeed in getting a pardon and returning to politics … He will come back and he wants to become prime minister once again.”