In a controversial move, Malaysia has halved the jail sentence of former premier Najib Razak, who was convicted of graft and money laundering related to the 1MDB scandal. This decision is expected to raise concerns about Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s dedication to combating corruption. Despite campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, Anwar formed a government with Najib’s graft-tainted party, the United National Malays Organisation (UMNO), late last year, following an election that resulted in a hung parliament. The reduction in Najib’s sentence contributes to accusations that the Anwar administration is backtracking on promised reforms, especially after numerous graft cases involving Najib and other UMNO leaders were dropped in the previous year.
With the decrease in Najib’s sentence, he will now be released from prison in 2028, while the fines imposed on him have been significantly reduced, from 210 million ringgit to 50 million ringgit ($10.59 million). Malaysia’s Pardons Board, chaired by the king, did not provide a reason for this drastic reduction. However, it did state that if Najib fails to pay the fine, an additional year will be added to his jail term. Both the prime minister’s office and Najib’s representatives have yet to comment on this development, creating further ambiguity and speculation.
Najib was found guilty of graft connected to the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which saw an estimated $4.5 billion stolen, with over $1 billion traced back to accounts associated with the former premier. Following the affirmation of his conviction by Malaysia’s highest court, Najib applied for a royal pardon, becoming the nation’s first imprisoned prime minister in history. Throughout the proceedings, he maintained his innocence, claiming that he had been misled by fugitive financier Jho Low and other 1MDB officials regarding the funds’ source. Najib argued that he genuinely believed that the money was donated by the Saudi royal family.
Malaysia’s king, while primarily serving a ceremonial role, possesses discretionary powers granted by the federal constitution, including the ability to pardon convicted individuals. The pardons board, which advises the king, consists of the attorney-general and government officials. In this case, Najib’s application for a reduced sentence was one of several reviewed by the board. Malaysia’s former king, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, chaired the board during the review process. Al-Sultan Abdullah’s five-year reign came to an end on Tuesday, as per the country’s system of rotating monarchy. He was succeeded by Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar from the state of Johor.
The decision to halve Najib Razak’s jail sentence and reduce his fines raises serious questions about the Anwar Ibrahim-led government’s commitment to combating corruption. Critics argue that these actions undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the administration’s ability to deliver on promised reforms. The dropping of graft cases against Najib and other UMNO leaders, coupled with the reduction in Najib’s sentence, contributes to a perception that the government is prioritizing political alliances and personal interests over the pursuit of justice and accountability.
In light of these developments, many await a response from Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s office and Najib’s representatives. This decision may have far-reaching implications for Malaysia’s political landscape and its ongoing battle against corruption. Only time will tell if the country’s leadership will address these concerns and restore faith in its commitment to fighting graft. The stakes are high, as public confidence in the government’s integrity hangs in the balance.