Malaysia Reduces ex-PM Najib Razak’s Jail term Over 1MDB Scandal

The country’s pardons board has reduced the 12-year jail sentence of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak for corruption.

In 2022, Najib was sentenced to jail for his involvement in the embezzlement of Malaysia’s state-owned wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The board also decreased the penalty imposed on him to 50m ringgit (£8.3m; $10.5m) from the initial 210m ringgit.

Najib must make full payment to ensure his release in August 2028.

If he doesn’t make the payment, his sentence will be prolonged until 2029, adding another year to his time behind bars.

He was found guilty in 2020 after spending a lengthy period of time appealing his conviction through the legal system.

The imprisonment of such a prominent figure in Asian politics during that period had significant repercussions throughout South East Asia. It was seen as a unique instance of responsibility in a region where power frequently goes unchecked.

However, it was reported on Tuesday that Malaysia’s pardons board had convened on the final day of the King’s tenure to discuss Najib’s request for release. Malaysia’s monarchy undergoes a rotation as King Abdullah Ahmad Shah hands over power to Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar on Wednesday.

According to James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania, the reduced sentence is indicative of the leaders in South East Asia acting without consequences.

“If you achieve a certain level in your career, you become invincible,” Prof Chin shared with the BBC.

According to him, the release of the pardons board’s decision seemed like an effort to handle any potential public anger.

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Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), formerly in power in Malaysia, has been advocating for a royal pardon after exploring all other legal options.

Two weeks ago, Najib was taken from prison by guards to appear in a Kuala Lumpur court to hear his latest legal challenge. He and his wife Rosmah Mansor are still facing a number of other charges.

Despite the significant harm to his reputation caused by the 1MDB scandal and the revelations about his involvement, Najib continues to enjoy popularity among grassroots UMNO supporters. Many of these supporters have benefited from the generosity he showed towards ethnic Malay communities during his time in power. He successfully strengthened that support through a clever PR campaign, even after facing charges, using the catchy slogan Bossku (Your Boss).

Several UMNO leaders who have taken his place lack the same level of popularity, thus they felt compelled to demonstrate their efforts in removing him. Najib’s party has experienced a decline in its influence, although it remains one of the largest parties in Malaysia. It is currently a member of the governing coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, who has had a complicated history with Najib. It’s not particularly shocking to witness its desires being met.

Can you provide information about the 1MDB scandal?

The 1MDB scheme involved a complex network of deceit and dishonesty, where large sums of money that were meant for public development projects in Malaysia ended up in the hands of individuals, including Najib.

According to reports, it is believed that Jho Low, a fugitive financier wanted by Malaysian authorities, was the mastermind behind the scheme. According to the country’s anti-corruption body, it was reported last year that he is believed to be in Macau.

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The case revolves around the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund established in 2009 during Najib’s tenure as prime minister.

Sovereign wealth funds are government-owned investment entities that play a crucial role in enhancing a country’s economic development. Constructed using funds generated from state earnings, including revenues from oil resources and exports, these entities possess significant financial resources to invest and potentially wield substantial influence on the global stage.

In 2015, concerns were raised regarding 1MBD’s activities following its failure to make payments to banks and bondholders.

Malaysian and US authorities claim that a significant amount of money was allegedly misappropriated from the fund and redirected for personal gain.

The missing funds have been connected to opulent properties, a personal aircraft, valuable artwork by Van Gogh and Monet acquired by Low – and even a major Hollywood film, the Wolf of Wall Street, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Last week, US bank Goldman Sachs reached a $3.9bn settlement with the Malaysian government for its involvement in a multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme.

The agreement settled allegations in Malaysia that the bank provided misleading information to investors during its involvement in raising $6.5bn for 1MDB.

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