Malaysian Court Slaps Down Former PM Najib’s House Arrest Bid

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Malaysian Court Slaps Down Former PM Najib’s House Arrest Bid

The former leader’s legal team claim that the former king issued an order allowing him to finish his sentence “under condition of home arrest.”

Malaysian Court Slaps Down Former PM Najib’s House Arrest Bid

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court complex escorted by prison officers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, April 4, 2024.

Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File

Malaysia’s High Court has dismissed a bid by imprisoned former Prime Minister Najib Razak to serve the remainder of his corruption sentence under house arrest.

In a “surprise application” filed on April 1, Najib’s legal team claimed to have “clear information” that then-king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah had issued an order allowing the former leader to finish his sentence “under condition of home arrest.”

Their application claimed that the order was made in an unpublished addendum to the royal pardon that was granted to Najib on January 29, which halved his 12-year prison sentence for his involvement in the massive 1MDB corruption scandal. It also reduced his fine from 210 million ringgit ($44.5 million) to 50 million ($10.6 million).

The application accused seven entities, including the Pardons Board, home minister, and attorney-general of concealing the king’s order “in bad faith.” It then asked for the court to compel the government to reply to or confirm the existence of the royal order, and to execute the order if it was found to exist.

Handing down his ruling yesterday, High Court Justice Amarjeet Singh said that the four supporting affidavits in Najib’s application, filed by two high-ranking members of the United Malays National Organization who said they had seen a copy of the royal order, were “purely hearsay,” the Star newspaper reported. “As a result, there is no affidavit verifying the material facts stated by the applicant,” Singh said.

Speaking to the press after the verdict, Najib’s lawyer, Mohamed Shafee Abdullah, said that he would appeal the verdict, and expressed disappointment in the judge’s ruling that the government has “no legal duty” to verify the existence of the addendum order.

“The court said there is no legal duty but in terms of ethics, the government should have answered,” Shafee said, according to the Associated Press.

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 the state investment fund 1MDB. In August 2022, Najib lost his final appeal in the case and began his 12-year sentence at Kajang prison in Selangor.

1MDB was established in 2009, shortly after Najib’s election. 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 about the defeat of 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.

Since then, Najib’s legal team has pursued various avenues of appeal, including filing a request for a royal pardon, which was granted in January. The halving of Najib’s sentence and the sharp reduction in his fine was met with considerable outrage in Malaysia, where many viewed it as an example of the differential treatment granted to the wealthy and well-connected. One former chief of Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency described it at the time as “a bitter blow” to the agency and those who led the investigation of the 1MDB theft.

The Pardon’s Board was not obliged to offer a justification for the reduction in Najib’s sentence, which is now due to end on August 23, 2028 – though his lawyers will no doubt continue to pursue all remaining processes of appeal. In February, they said the former leader was considering filing a new petition for a full pardon. Najib still faces a number of other charges related to the 1MDB scandal.