Ex-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is finally behind bars

Former Premier has been sentenced over his role in the looting of 1MDB.

After four years of trenchant denials and legal obfuscation, former Prime Minister Najib Razak, the star of Malaysia’s leading political family, this week became the first leader of his country to be jailed – a humiliating downfall for a proud figure now enmeshed by corruption charges.

Andrew Mullen

It was once said that “a week is a long time in politics”. For the family of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, a lot certainly has changed in a short span of time.

First, Najib lost his final appeal against his corruption conviction linked to a former unit of scandal-tainted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and has already begun his 12-year jail term.

Next, just over a week later, his wife Rosmah Mansor was given a 10-year sentence linked to a corruption case involving a separate project, though she is still a free woman pending an appeal.

In this issue, Bhavan Jaipragas, the SCMP’s Asia editor, breaks down a whirlwind time for Malaysian politics and provides the latest on the 1MDB scandal that sent shockwaves around the world.

Where is Jho Low?

Malaysia has had quite a bit to digest in the last two weeks, to say the least.

On August 23, Najib Razak became the Southeast Asian nation’s first former prime minister to go to prison, marking a stunning fall for a politician who had been the star of the country’s leading political family.

Najib’s supporters staging protest demonstration

Najib was sent straight to prison after the country’s top court affirmed a 12-year jail sentence handed down by a lower court in 2020 – and upheld by a Court of Appeal in 2021 – in one of the cases linking him to the infamous 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal.

Then this week, his wife Rosmah Mansor was given a 10-year jail sentence along with a fine in a corruption case involving a separate project. She will remain free for now, pending further appeals.

Rosmah’s legal troubles have nothing to do with the multibillion-dollar plunder of the 1MDB state fund, but those losses are the center of the couple’s current fortunes.

Najib, with his vast political power, is seen as being the centrifugal force behind the scandal – a bond-raising venture that Malaysian and US authorities now believe led to US$4.5 billion vanishing into the pockets of officials, their friends and fixers.

Investigators say these characters were sprawled across the world, pulling in everyone from US banking titan Goldman Sachs to Hollywood producers.

1MDB’s losses will cost Malaysian taxpayers 38.8 billion ringgit (US$8.7 billion) in outstanding debts that the country is committed to service until 2039, well beyond Najib’s 12-year imprisonment, sluicing off much-needed funds from more pressing needs such as a creaking universal healthcare scheme.

What happens next? Najib, for one, faces four other criminal cases. If convicted in all of these trials, he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Having exhausted all legal avenues, his only escape route looks pegged to the potential for a royal pardon from Malaysia’s king, last granted in 2018 to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim near the end of his six-year jail term.

While the palace is yet to comment on Najib’s fate, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah in May hosted both the former prime minister and his wife Rosmah, alongside other top office holders, for dinner at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur.

The hunt, meanwhile, continues for the still-fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, otherwise known as Jho Low. Described as a bon vivant, Low is accused of being the central figure orchestrating bribes and kickbacks that made the sluicing of 1MDB funds possible.

This week, the co-authors of a book about Low said they believed he was hiding in China. Beijing has previously denied offering him safe harbor.

1MDB watchers will also be keeping their eyes peeled on developments surrounding Roger Ng and Tim Leissner, two former Goldman Sachs employees who played a role in the embezzlement.

Ng was found guilty in a New York court of money laundering and breaching US anti-corruption laws. Like Leissner, who previously pled guilty to various charges, Ng is awaiting sentencing.

For governments around the world, from Singapore to Switzerland, the work will continue to piece together the full scale of the multi-jurisdiction looting – described by the US Department of Justice as “kleptocracy at its worst” – so that it does not happen again.


Courtesy: South China Morning Post

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