Malaysia’s top court on Tuesday upheld ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s graft conviction and 12-year prison sentence linked to the looting of the 1MDB state fund. Najib’s loss in his final appeal means he will have to begin serving his sentence immediately, becoming the first former prime minister to be jailed.
The five-member Federal Court panel said it unanimously found the high court judge was right in his judgment and that Najib’s appeal was “devoid of any merits.” The court affirmed Najib’s conviction and sentence.
1MDB was a development fund that Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty in 2020 of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
Najib, 69, has maintained he is innocent and has been out on bail pending his appeals. Just before the court delivered its verdict, he stood up in the dock to make a statement protesting the top court’s refusal last week to delay the appeal to let his newly appointed lawyers prepare for the case.
Najib said he felt he was “unfairly treated” and that his case has been rushed through. He pointed out that a leaked verdict by the Federal Court had been posted on a website and said if this was true, it would be the a “judicial misconduct of the highest order.”
But Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat said the appeal hearings had ended because Najib’s lawyers refused to make any new arguments to protest not being given more time to prepare. She then read out the court’s verdict.
Najib appeared in shock. He was immediately surrounded by his family and supporters. The verdict came after a series of attempts by Najib to prolong the case.
Earlier Tuesday, he sought to remove Maimun from the case, citing possible bias because her husband had made a negative Facebook posting about Najib’s leadership shortly after his ouster in 2018 general elections. But the judges dismissed Najib’s application.
Maimun, Malaysia’s first female chief justice, who was appointed in 2019, has come under attack on social media from Najib’s supporters. Police arrested a man over the weekend in connection with death threats made against Maimun. Hundreds of Najib’s supporters gathered outside the court in a show of support.
The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries and caused the downfall of Najib’s government in 2018 elections. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to 1MDB, and his wife is also on trial on corruption charges.
Still, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections of lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.