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Malaysian court refuses to let jailed ex-PM serve term in house arrest

Robert Besser
7 Jul 2024

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: A Malaysian court dismissed former Prime Minister Najib Razak's request to serve his remaining corruption sentence under house arrest.

Najib, imprisoned for corruption linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, claimed that then-King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah issued an order allowing him to finish his sentence under house arrest.

Najib's application, filed in April, alleged that this addendum order was made during a January 29 pardons board meeting, reducing his 12-year jail sentence by half and significantly lowering his fine.

Najib's lawyer, Mohamed Shafee Abdullah, expressed disappointment with the High Court's decision, which stated that the government had "no legal duty" to verify the existence of such an order.

"The court said there is no legal duty but in terms of ethics, the government should have answered," Shafee told a news conference at the court building.

Shafee announced plans to appeal the ruling, arguing that the government should have clarified the matter.

In his application, Najib accused the pardons board, the home minister, the attorney general, and others of concealing the sultan's order "in bad faith." Sultan Abdullah, who ended his reign on January 30, hails from Najib's hometown in Pahang. The new king assumed office on January 31.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail denied knowledge of the order, while others named in Najib's application have remained silent. Shafee insisted that the application was supported by "digital evidence," claiming Trade Minister Zafrul Aziz had photographed the addendum on his mobile phone when Sultan Abdullah informed him.

"One thing is clear, not one person or any government institution has said that this addendum does not exist. If it does not exist, just say so. If the government dare says clearly there is no addendum, we can all go home and sleep," he said.

Najib, 70, has served less than two years of his sentence, which is now due to end on August 23, 2028, after being commuted by the pardons board.

He was found guilty of corruption related to the looting of the 1MDB fund, with investigators alleging that at least $4.5 billion was stolen and laundered through a complex network of bank accounts, financing extravagant purchases and projects.

The pardons board did not provide a reason for its decision to commute Najib's sentence, leading to public outcry over perceived special treatment.

The Malaysian Bar, representing over 20,000 lawyers, has challenged the board's decision as illegal, unconstitutional, and invalid, arguing it undermines Najib's ongoing criminal cases. The hearing for the Bar's challenge began this week.

Najib established the 1MDB fund shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 2009. Investigators claim his associates misappropriated billions from the fund, laundering the money to finance lavish lifestyles and investments worldwide. Over $700 million allegedly landed in Najib's personal bank accounts.

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