KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian former Prime Minister Najib Razak starts his final attempt on Monday (Aug 15) to set aside his conviction in a corruption case linked to the multi-billion dollar 1MDB financial scandal.
The country’s highest court has scheduled hearings through Aug 26 to hear Najib’s appeal of his convictions for criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering over the alleged theft of US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund he co-founded as premier in 2009.
At least six countries have launched investigations into 1MDB, a global scandal that has implicated high-level officials and major financial institutions.
Prosecutors say more than US$1 billion in 1MDB funds made its way into Najib’s personal accounts.
Najib, 69, who has pleaded not guilty to dozens of charges, was sentenced in July 2020 in the first of several trials to 12 years in jail and a US$50 million fine for illegally receiving about US$10 million from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.
The conviction was upheld by an appeals court last year.
The former prime minister appeared undeterred on Sunday, Malaysian daily The Star reported, and opted to speak at the Wanita Barisan Nasional convention.
“Tomorrow is important for me as it is the final appeal at the Federal Court. Although today I was supposed to be busy with my lawyers, I chose to be with Wanita,” he said, adding that he would not “flinch an inch”.
Najib, who is also the Barisan advisory board chairman, said he wanted delegates of the women’s wing to understand that he was with them.
“No matter what they do, no matter the cruelty inflicted upon me, my wife and my family, I will stand firm and not flinch an inch and fight alongside Wanita.
“We will ensure Barisan Nasional win the 15th General Election,” said Najib, who was at the convention with his wife Rosmah Mansor. She is also facing graft charges.
Touching on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) issue, Najib said the Opposition was trying to play up the scandal ahead of GE15 just as it did with the 1MDB scandal.
The Barisan government had in 2011 commissioned six LCS for RM9 billion (S$2.8 billion) without open tender, to be built by Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) and delivered from 2019.
But none of the ships has been completed so far, although five should have been delivered this month with the government paying more than RM6 billion to date, the Public Accounts Committee revealed in Parliament.
In addition to appealing his corruption verdict, Najib is asking the Federal Court to introduce fresh evidence to nullify the trial, accusing the trial judge of a conflict of interest, documents filed ahead of Monday’s hearing showed.
Najib, whose party Umno suffered a historic defeat at the 2018 elections but himself retained his parliamentary seat, has been free on bail pending the appeal.
If the verdict is upheld, he would likely begin his sentence immediately, according to a prosecutor.
Malaysian law allows for a review of Federal Court decisions, but such applications are rarely successful.
The appeal comes ahead of national elections that are expected to be called before a September 2023 deadline.
An acquittal could spark a political comeback for Najib, who told Reuters last year he had not ruled out seeking re-election to parliament.
While he remains a popular figure and active lawmaker, Najib is barred from contesting elections unless his conviction is overturned or he receives a royal pardon.
His son, Datuk Mohd Nizar Najib, has been touted as a candidate for the Pekan parliamentary seat if Najib, who has held the seat for more than four decades, is ineligible to contest.