Former Malaysian PM Seeks to Serve Remaining Prison Term Under House Arrest

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Former Malaysian PM Seeks to Serve Remaining Prison Term Under House Arrest

Najib Razak claims that the authorities have concealed the existence of a royal order permitting him to serve his remaining sentence at home.

Former Malaysian PM Seeks to Serve Remaining Prison Term Under House Arrest

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, wearing a face mask, arrives with his supporters at the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak is once again seeking to dilute the prison term he is serving for his role in the 1MDB scandal, filing a legal application to allow him to serve the remainder of his term under house arrest.

In what The Associated Press described as a “surprise application” filed on Wednesday, Najib’s legal team said that the former leader had “clear information” that then-king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah had issued an order allowing him to finish his sentence under house arrest.

Najib’s legal team claims that the order was made in an unpublished addendum to the royal pardon that was granted by the king on January 29, which halved the former leader’s 12-year prison sentence and reduced his 210 million Malaysian ringgit ($44.2 million) fine to 50 million ringgit.

It said that the king, whose term as the head of Malaysia’s rotating monarchy ended just days later, issued an addendum to the decree that would have allowed Najib to serve his reduced sentence “under condition of home arrest.”

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, Najib’s application argued that despite the royal pardon decree being made public, the same was not done for the addendum, which was “immediately or simultaneously issued” on the same day as the decree. The application accused seven entities, including the Pardons Board, home minister, and attorney-general of concealing the sultan’s order “in bad faith.”

The 1MDB state investment was set up in 2009, at the beginning of Najib’s tenure. In the ensuing years, investigators claim, at least $4.5 billion was drained from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates through a labyrinth of dummy corporations and bank accounts across the globe. The 1MDB scandal helped bring down Najib’s government at the general election of 2018, and has since led to criminal investigations in a number of other countries, including in the United States, Switzerland, and Singapore. A day before Najib filed his application, a trial opened in Switzerland for two men accused of embezzling $1.8 billion from 1MDB.

In 2020, a court found Najib guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering for illegally receiving around $10 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB. In August 2022, Najib lost his final appeal in the case and began his 12-year sentence at Kajang prison in Selangor. Almost immediately, his lawyers attempted to circumvent this decision by applying for a royal pardon, which was duly granted in late January by Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the sultan of Najib’s home state of Pahang on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. It was one of the king’s final acts before he stepped down as the head of the country’s rotational monarchy, which subsequently passed to the sultan of Johor.

Najib has maintained his innocence, heaping responsibility onto the Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, the presumed mastermind of the 1MDB theft, who remains at large.

The application is consistent with Najib’s politico-legal strategy of using his wealth and political influence to chip away at his prison term, while preparing the ground for a political comeback at the next general election. Whether it succeeds remains to be seen – the public anger at the 1MDB case continues to boil, and Najib faces additional 1MDB-related cases – but the growing salience of Malay Muslim identity politics gives Najib considerable means of painting the 1MDB charges as a case of political victimization.