1MDB scandal: ex-PM Najib Razak’s 12-year prison sentence halved by Malaysia’s pardons board

Najib could now be eligible for release next year under Malaysia’s Prisons Act, which says prisoners can apply for parole after serving half of their sentence. He will hit half of the revised six-year tariff at the end of 2025.

The decision, teased across the week by the media and ministers, drew immediate public anger, with some questioning how the country could operate on “two tracks of justice”.

Anwar’s coalition, Najib’s royal pardon ruling add to Malaysia’s ringgit woes

“Feudalism plays a part in making sure some entrenched interest gets the better of society,” Jalil Rasheed, the former chief executive of state investment fund PNB, posted on X.

“Reminder that taxes you’re paying are going toward the mess that’s been created.”

Others turned their ire on the current government of Anwar Ibrahim.

“Embarrassing,” said Amira Aisya Abdul Aziz, acting president of the Muda party. “Don’t be picky in fighting corruption. Today’s government is like a sinking ship.”

Construction workers chat in front of an advertisement for state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in Kuala Lumpur in 2015. Photo: AP

The US Department of Justice described the multibillion-dollar scandal at 1MDB, the state fund founded in 2009 just months after Najib became prime minister, as the largest case of kleptocracy ever uncovered.

It thrust corruption inside Malaysia’s political and business elites into the international spotlight, with links to notorious names including the hard-partying fugitive financier Jho Low, who funded the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Wolf of Wall Street.

The scandal eventually led to the first-ever electoral loss for Najib’s Umno party in 2018, followed by the spectacular downfall of the British-educated one-time political star.

Police and anti-corruption officers raided premises linked to Najib and his family, seizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of luxury handbags, thousands of pieces of jewellery and watches and cash in 26 different currencies.

A member of the Malaysian Police’s Commercial Crime Investigation Department holds up a picture of items seized in 2018 from properties linked to Najib Razak, including jewellery and luxury handbags. Photo: AFP

Najib was convicted in 2020 of seven counts of corruption and abuse of power involving 42 million ringgit (US$8.9 million) funnelled through SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

He was jailed two years later after failing in his final attempt to overturn the sentence at federal court.

Najib, whose wife Rosmah Mansor faces separate corruption charges unrelated to 1MDB, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was a victim of a scheme marshalled by Low and others.

He still faces at least three other trials linked to 1MDB, through which at least US$4.5 billion is believed to have been siphoned off, according to the US Department of Justice and Malaysian investigators.

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Najib’s stunning change of fortune comes as fresh corruption probes implicate the family and allies of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad – a sworn rival of Anwar.

Critics say Anwar is attempting to consolidate support in his government, in part by using Najib’s enduring popularity among the ethnic-Malay majority, while also embarking on a political vendetta against the 98-year-old Mahathir.

Mahathir and his allies have accused Anwar of selective persecution via the ongoing investigations of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

It follows reprieves for a string of leaders in Najib’s Umno party, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who have been cleared of corruption charges over the past year.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre), current Umno chief and deputy prime minister of Malaysia, is among a string of leaders from Najib’s old party to be cleared of corruption charges over the past year. Photo: EPA-EFE

A career politician, Najib got an early start at the age of 23 when he returned home from his studies in London to contest the Pekan parliamentary seat in his home state of Pahang after his father, Malaysia’s second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, died while in office in 1976.

Groomed for high office, he was made a deputy minister at the age of 25 and later chief minister of Pahang before a long stint as defence minister.

Najib became prime minister in 2009, the year that he co-founded 1MDB.

Investigators say 1MDB funds were diverted through a complex web of offshore bank accounts and shell companies – many of which were linked to Low. Malaysian authorities have not said where Low could be hiding, though he is widely believed to be in China.

Jho Low has a home in Cyprus, an EU passport and a face like a bear’s?

Mahathir, who led the opposition to an unprecedented election win in 2018, previously said Malaysia ended up with a debt pile in excess of 1 trillion ringgit as a result of the 1MDB scandal.

The government is also looking to renegotiate an earlier settlement with US investment bank Goldman Sachs over their role in helping 1MDB raise US$6.5 billion in two bond offerings, earning the bank a US$600 million payday.

Malaysia says at least part of the funds raised were stolen.

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