A Malaysian appeals court on Wednesday upheld former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s conviction for corruption in the first case linked to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB state fund scandal.
Najib, whose tenure as prime minister ended in defeat in the 2018 election, was convicted of embezzling around 42 million ringgit ($ 9.88 million) from SRC International, a division of 1MDB, to his personal bank accounts in July of last year, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The appeals court said it agreed with the High Court’s verdict.
“We reject the petition and affirm the conviction on all sentences,” said Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, announcing the unanimous decision of the three judges who made up the appeal committee in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.
The 68-year-old had been released on bail pending appeal, and the court agreed he should remain free while he appeals to the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest court.
The seven counts in the SRC case relate to allegations of abuse of power, several counts of money laundering and criminal breach of trust.
Najib, his lead counsel, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, and the other members of the defense team have appeared by video call from their homes due to the coronavirus. Dressed in a dark suit, the former prime minister showed little emotion when Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil read the panel’s findings.
Referring to the defense assertion on appeal that Najib acted in the national interest, the judge was frank.
Noting the flow of money into Najib’s personal bank accounts, Judge Abdul Karim told the court: âThis is not something that can be said to have been done in the national interest. There is no national interest here. Just a national embarrassment.
The court ruling comes as Najib attempts a return to a country that has had three prime ministers since the 1MDB scandal toppled its government. He remains popular within the United National Organization of Malaysia (UMNO), which is now back in power after the 2018 defeat.
In recent days, Najib and his legal team have sought to present new evidence and requested a postponement on Tuesday because a member of the team had tested positive for COVID-19. The judge rejected the request and dismissed the request to accept new evidence in an online hearing.
“The appeals court seems impressed with the reasoning and thoroughness of the trial judge’s detailed reasons for judgment and therefore decided not to disturb them and leave the sentence in effect,” political analyst Oh Ei said. Sun at Al Jazeera. “As this is a unanimous decision, Najib would have a hard time convincing the Federal Court in its next appeal to set aside the judgments of the trial and appellate courts.”
‘I did not know’
In rendering his guilty verdict last year, Judge Mohamad Nazlan Ghazali said that Najib, who was both Prime Minister and Minister of Finance at the time of the offenses, “acted outside the limits of authorized conduct” in approval of loans, which later became a source of funds transferred to his account.
He said Najib “benefited” from the loan approval and that the defense failed to raise a reasonable doubt about the abuse of power offense.
During the appeal, the defense argued that Najib did not know the money was going to his accounts or that it was coming from SRC. They claimed that Najib was misled by Malaysian financier Jho Low and other 1MDB officials into believing the funds in his account were a donation from the Saudi royal family.
Low, whose fate remains unknown, has denied any wrongdoing.
Speaking after the decision, Najib, the son of the second Malaysian prime minister, famous for his frugality, said he was “very disappointed” with the outcome and insisted he knew nothing about the money on his account.
“As a Muslim, I swore in the name of Allah whom I did not know, I neither asked nor asked for money from anyone,” he said.
Shafee, his lawyer, said he was “quite shocked” by the outcome of the appeal and that describing what had happened as a “national embarrassment” was “unnecessary”. He said there were 14 areas of concern they would raise in Federal Court.
About 50 supporters of the former prime minister traveled to Putrajaya, some wearing T-shirts bearing the word “bossku” (my boss). Protesting Najib’s innocence, they said he was “persecuted”.
“We are neither surprised nor shocked by the decision,” said Rosnah Ila, a businesswoman who was among the small crowd. “This is not a fair justice system, it is being persecuted without sufficient evidence. Justice be done in the sight of Allah. Those people who were against Najib will pay a heavy price.
The US Department of Justice alleges that $ 4.5 billion in government money was taken out of 1MDB during Najib’s tenure.
The former prime minister received more than $ 1 billion in 1MDB funds, prosecutors say, and faces a total of 42 criminal charges linked to the scandal.
Najib is the first Malaysian leader to be convicted of corruption.
His appeal to federal court could take another six to nine months, Sithambaram said.
With the report of Ushar Daniele in Putrajaya.