For years, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife led a high-flying life supported by money embezzled from a state development fund, known as “the hit of the century”. Now in prison, Najib clings to one last chance to return to politics: a royal pardon, which is not ruled out.
Najib, who governed Malaysia between 2009 and 2018, has known public life for decades, having taken the political witness from his father, the second Prime Minister of the Asian country, Abdul Razak Hussein, upon his death in 1976.
But his knowledge of diplomacy and contacts among the Malaysian high spheres have not prevented, to the surprise of many, that his excesses have been punished: On August 23, the Malaysian Federal Court ultimately upheld a twelve-year prison sentence for corruption.
The former president, 69 years old and who pleads not guilty, was found guilty of misappropriation of 42 million ringgit (9.42 million dollars) from the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), devised by him to develop Malaysia, and became the first former leader of the country to go to prison.
Accustomed to rubbing shoulders with renowned bankers and world leaders -he maintained a photographed friendship with former President Donald Trump-, Najib exchanged luxury for the austerity of the cell, a fate that in principle also awaits his wife, Rosmah Mansor, sentenced to 10 years in prison this month, a sentence he has appealed.
THE FRAMES OF MALAYSIA
The term luxury may not be enough to illustrate the life of the couple until their defenestration, which occurred after a journalistic investigation that uncovered the scandal in 2015: With the money from the fund under their control, the couple ran a kleptocracy in the style of the Marcos (1965-1986) in the Philippines.
In 2018, shortly after Najib lost the election to his one-time patron, the ninety-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who used the corruption of 1MDB to beat his one-time ward at the polls, police seized dazzling loot after search the couple’s home.
Up to 300 boxes with Hermes or Louis Vuitton bags, dozens of suitcases with cash in various currencies, 423 watches, 14 tiaras and other valuables left the presidential home, recalling the 3,000 pairs of shoes found in Imelda’s home Marcos, wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
According to several judicial investigations of a scandal with ramifications in Hollywood and Wall Street -due to the contacts of Najib and his partner, Jho Low, now a fugitive from Justice-, up to 4,500 million dollars were embezzled, 681 of them ending up in the accounts of the former leader, who faces four other lawsuits.
LINKS WITH HOLYWOOD AND SAUDI ARABIA
The case, leaked by the former Swiss-Spanish banker Xavier Justo, is peppered with lurid details -mysterious murders of possible informers, links with Saudi Arabia and extravagant gifts with money from the fund to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio or the model Miranda Kerr-, became known as “the blow of the century”.
Which does not seem to prevent Najib from having the doors completely closed to an eventual return. Despite having embezzled money intended to industrialize a still developing country, the former leader trusts his circle to get him out of prison, and in early September he requested a royal pardon.
“I think there is a possibility that he will get a pardon, but later on, it may depend on the outcome of the next elections,” Cassey Lee, a Malaysian analyst at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, tells Efe.
Malaysia’s rotating monarchy has often played a residual role in national politics, although the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has had more influence in the tumultuous years since Mahathir’s resignation, and it was he who appointed Ismail prime minister. Sabri, returning Najib’s (UMNO) party to power.
For some analysts, the king’s decision will depend a lot on how much Ismail Sabri persuades him and whether the elections, which should be held before September 2023 and could take place in the coming months, strengthen UMNO, where Najib continues to have strong allies.
The kinghowever, wanted emphasize its neutralityand, as a defender of Islam in the country -Malaysia’s majority religion-, he stated after Najib asked for a pardon that Islamic justice “does not grant any privilege or exception to anyone who commits an offence”.
“Najib still has public support, but it will decrease as he is in prison, and his influence in some circles will also decrease then,” Lee told Efe.
(with information from EFE)
The Malaysian Justice ratified the sentence of 12 years in prison for corruption to former Prime Minister Najib Razak
The “1MDB” scandal: Paris Hilton, a Picasso for Leonardo DiCaprio and the theft of USD 4.5 billion that will land a prime minister in jail
The former Malaysian prime minister was found guilty of corruption with a state fund
Diamonds and Hermes bags among $273 million in cash and luxury goods seized from former Malaysian presidential couple