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Malaysia’s top court refused Friday to review its 2022 decision to uphold former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s conviction for graft and 12-year jail sentence, saying he was “the author of his own misfortune.”
A five-member Federal Court bench unanimously rejected his final appeal in August in a case linked to the looting of state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, sending Najib straight to prison to start serving his sentence. But Najib has sought a review to overturn the decision, saying he has been denied a fair trial.
A new Federal Court panel rejected Najib’s assertion in a majority judgement. This effectively shut the lid on the case, which means that Najib will have to serve out the duration of his sentence. If he had won a review, he could have been freed on bail pending a new appeal hearing.
Najib was stone-faced when the judgement was read out.
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Four of five judges said they found “no failure of justice.” They dismissed the defense’s arguments that there was a conflict of interest by the judge who convicted him, Najib was not given sufficient time for his new lawyer to prepare for the case, and he wasn’t allowed to cite new evidence. The judges said the earlier Federal Court panel had applied the laws correctly.
“In this matter, with respect, we are constrained to say the applicant is the author of his own misfortune,” said Justice Vernon Ong.
Justice Abdul Rahman Sebli dissented, saying that there must be confidence in the administration of justice. He spent more than an hour explaining why he saw a miscarriage of justice in the handling of the final appeal last year.
Later, lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram told reporters that Friday’s decision was “a vindication that the charges are legally mounted and not politically motivated.”
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak gets into a car after his court appearance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 3, 2019. Malaysia’s top court refused on March 31, 2023, to review its decision to uphold Razak’s graft conviction. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)
“This prosecution has shown that no man in this land is above the law,” he said, adding that it should send a “chilling message” that the law would catch up with all offenders.
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But defense counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said it was “not the end of the matter yet.”
While the defense team was extremely disappointed, Shafee said, the strong dissenting judgement has opened up the possibility of a fresh review. He noted that Abdul Rahman even suggested an acquittal instead of a retrial on grounds that Najib wasn’t accorded a fair trial. Shafee declined to give further details on Najib’s next move.
While further review of the case is possible, Sithambaram said it was unlikely.
The British-educated Najib was born into Malaysia’s political elite. His father was the country’s second prime minister and his uncle was the third.
He became prime minister in 2009 as a reformer but his term was tainted by the 1MDB scandal that sparked investigations in the United States and several other countries and caused his government’s downfall in 2018 general elections.
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Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the 1MDB fund, set up shortly after Najib took power, and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty in 2020 of seven charges of corruption for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
Najib was the country’s first former leader to be imprisoned. He still faces dozens of charges in several separate trials linked to 1MDB. His wife, Rosmah Mansor, was also sentenced to 10 years in jail for a separate corruption case and is out on bail pending appeal.