By Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah
Disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was sent to prison for 12 years for corruption less than two weeks ago, has petitioned the king for a pardon, the Parliament Speaker said on Monday.
A royal pardon is the only way Najib can go free because he has exhausted all legal avenues, having lost his final appeal against his conviction in a 1MDB-related case on Aug. 23 in the Federal Court.
Najib will now remain a member of parliament until the king rules on his pardon petition, Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun said in a statement. But he cannot contest the next election, due by September 2023, unless he is pardoned before then, according to a lawyer, Lim Wei Jet.
According to the law, Najib had to file a petition for a pardon within 14 days of the verdict, to retain his parliamentary seat.
“I have received a copy of the pardon application under Article 42 of the Federal Constitution, for Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is the Pekan MP, dated Sept. 1,” the speaker’s statement said, adding the application was accepted a day later by the prime minister’s department.
“This means that the status of …Najib … as Pekan Member of Parliament has not changed at this time and will only be finalized when the appeal petition is settled,” the speaker said, noting that the ex-PM’s appeal was filed within 14 days of the Federal Court’s decision.
Although Najib retains his parliamentary seat pending the outcome of the petition for a royal pardon, he can only contest the next general election if he is pardoned, said Lim Wei Jet, who is also a co-founder of the youth party MUDA.
“There is no timeline imposed on when a decision on the pardon should be made,” the lawyer wrote on Twitter.
“But anyhow, Najib can’t contest in GE15 if [there is] no full pardon come nomination day,” he added,
The leadership of the ruling United Malays National Organization [UMNO], which is Najib’s party, has been calling for snap polls. The government recently advanced the budget hearing, which analysts said indicated that the 15th general election would be held this year.
The Federal Court on Aug. 23 upheld 69-year-old Najib’s conviction in a case related to 1MDB subsidiary SRC International, and sent him to prison to serve his 12-year sentence for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.
In July 2020, the Kuala Lumpur High Court convicted Najib for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money-laundering over allegations that he illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.67 million) from SRC International, a subsidiary of sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
On Sunday, the incarcerated former PM was admitted to a hospital for an unspecified ailment, local media reports said. Najib, however, attended court Monday for another trial in which he is facing 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from 1MDB, reports said.
Najib, a senior leader of UMNO, had established 1MDB in 2009 when he served as prime minister and finance minister, saying it would benefit the Malaysian people.
More than $4.5 billion was diverted from 1MDB through fraudulent shell companies to corrupt officials and their associates, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
The 1MDB scandal caused UMNO to be swept out of power in the 2018 general election, a first for the grand old party that had not lost national polls in Malaysia’s then 60-year history.
‘Has Najib expressed any regret?’
Meanwhile, on social media, Najib’s application for a royal pardon invited derision.
One Twitter user said Najib ought to remain in prison so his case serves as an example to others.
“[W]e should let Najib serve his jail term so that the country [can] move forward,” tweeted a user named Morgan Stanly. “If Najib can be given [a] pardon then [we] might as well close down all the prisons, [and] let more people steal and rob the country.”
Lim Kit Siang, opposition politician and leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), said Najib had applied for a royal pardon without showing any remorse for his actions.
“Najib’s pardon petition is the first of its kind, different from all pardon petitions of the past 65 years. Firstly, all previous pardon petitions contained elements of regret, remorse or contrition for the offence committed, or were filed after the convict served a considerable portion of the sentence,” Kit Siang said in a statement published in local media outlet The Edge Markets.
“Has Najib expressed any regret, remorse or contrition for the 1MDB scandal and for other acts of corruption when he was prime minister of Malaysia? Najib has four other corruption trials. Is he going to be pardoned every time he is convicted?”
Kit Siang further said this is the first time that a pardon petition had been submitted immediately after a conviction “and carries the implication that the judiciary was wrong to put Najib in jail.”
Since he was convicted, Najib’s supporters and the leadership of UMNO have spun the narrative that the former PM did not get a fair trial. Najib had been instrumental in UMNO’s recent state election victories, and the party had been counting on him to pull in votes in the next general election, which the party leadership wants to be held sooner rather than later.
However, the party’s image has taken a beating lately because it is not just Najib who was convicted, his wife Rosmah Mansor, too, was last week found guilty of graft and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Rosmah, 70, who was known for her lavish lifestyle and fondness for Hermès Birkin bags, was also fined 970 million ringgit (U.S. $216 million) for seeking and taking bribes in exchange for helping a company secure a government contract.
The fine was the largest ever penalty imposed by a Malaysian court.
Rosmah is, however, out on bail pending an appeal she has filed against the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s verdict in the court of appeal.
The former first couple’s fall from grace began when Najib’s longtime ruling coalition suffered a shock electoral defeat in May 2018, after U.S. and Malaysian authorities exposed the multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal.
That same month, police conducted searches of Najib’s properties and seized hundreds of designer handbags, more than 10,000 pieces of jewelry and 117 million ringgit in cash of different currencies.
Officials estimated the value of the items seized and cash was between $200 million and $245 million.