From PM to prison: Malaysian Najib feels alone and burdened by ‘betrayal’

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 (Reuters) – After playing golf with U.S. Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak now counts convicted murderers and drug traffickers among his neighbors.

The Federal Court on Tuesday ordered Najib to begin a 12-year prison sentence after upholding a conviction on charges related to a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

It was his last call and the former prime minister, impeccably dressed in a dark suit and gray tie, was whisked straight to jail from the courthouse.

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It marked an astonishing turn of events for a leader who clung firmly to power at the height of the charges against 1MDB when he suppressed local surveys, fired investigators and clamped down on criticism even as other countries opened up. investigations into the high-profile scandal.

Malaysians, outraged by the widespread corruption and wealth displayed by his family, elected him in 2018.

Najib tried to leave the country soon after, but was arrested, briefly detained and his properties raided in scenes Malaysians weren’t expecting to see involving the son of the country’s highly respected second prime minister. , Abdul Razak Hussein.

Since then, the former prime minister has spent most of his time in court, defending himself against a total of 42 charges. He has always maintained his innocence and said he was misled by 1MDB officials.

A day before the final verdict, Najib said in a Facebook post that he was overwhelmed and felt betrayed and alone.

“There are times when we feel overwhelmed with tests and trials. With slander and persecution, with sincerity rewarded with betrayal. Sometimes we feel alone,” he said.

“I was desperate”

The rejection of his latest appeal on Tuesday involved a 2020 conviction in a lower court for criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering for illegally receiving approximately $10 million from a former 1MDB unit.

Prosecutors said some $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB – co-founded by Najib as prime minister in 2009 – and more than $1 billion went to Najib in what the US Department of Health Justice described as his biggest investigation into kleptocracy.

Najib has tried in recent weeks to delay the court’s decision by changing lawyers just before the appeal began.

But his strategies backfired, with the court refusing to give his lawyers more time to prepare.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Federal Court, in Putrajaya, Malaysia August 23, 2022. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

“I’m not ashamed to say it, I was desperate, as any litigant would be in my predicament,” Najib said in a statement last week, explaining his decision to change lawyers.

Najib could now seek a review of the Federal Court decision, although such requests are rarely successful.

He can also seek a royal pardon. If successful, he could be released without having served his full 12-year sentence.

The sentencing means Najib will lose his parliamentary seat and will not be able to stand for election. He also faces several other 1MDB lawsuits.

LUXURY WATCHES AND HANDBAGS

Najib was groomed for high office from his political debut at the age of 23.

Until recently, he was the youngest elected to parliament. This son of nobility educated in Great Britain was elected Prime Minister in 2009.

Najib adopted a reformist tone, pushing for liberal economic policies and repealing colonial-era security laws in an effort to shed the perception of a government unwilling to tolerate dissent.

But the disenchantment of Malaysia’s ethnic minorities at the 2013 elections prompted Najib to backtrack on his reform promises amid anger over the perceived loss of long-held economic privileges by the majority of ethnic Malays.

Majority Muslim Malays make up 60% of a population of around 32 million, with the rest mostly made up of ethnic Chinese and Indians.

In 2015, the first signs of scandal began to surface at 1MDB, prompting Najib to tackle the critics decisively.

It took a historic opposition election victory in 2018 for Malaysia to reopen 1MDB investigations that ultimately led to dozens of charges against Najib.

In the weeks following the loss, authorities seized hundreds of luxury handbags, jewelry, watches and millions of dollars in cash during searches of properties linked to her family.

Najib remains popular in some circles, including his UMNO party, which returned to power last year amid political unrest.

His regular attacks on the opposition and lighthearted updates on Facebook have attracted over 4 million followers, making him Malaysia’s most popular politician on social media.

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Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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