Implications of ex-Malaysian PM’s verdict

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Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak leaving the Duta Court complex in Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2020. AFP

The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled on Tuesday that former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was guilty on all seven charges related to the misappropriation of RM42 million ($9.9 million) of SRC International funds.

Najib was subsequently sentenced to 12 years in jail on each charge (all jail sentences running concurrently) and nearly $50 million fine. He would have to serve an additional five years if he fails to pay the fine. In delivering his verdict, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said the defence had failed to rebut the prosecution’s case in all these seven charges. In other words, the prosecution had successfully proven beyond reasonable doubt Najib’s conviction in three CBT, three money-laundering and one abuse of power charges.

Najib is the first former Malaysian prime minister to have been charged and convicted in a court. Najib can appeal to the Court of Appeal after the verdict, and if this is unsuccessful, he can still appeal to the Federal Court. According to the Federal Constitution, a Member of Parliament sentenced to more than one year in jail or not less than $470 fine will be disqualified, although Najib can remain as MP until he has completed his appellate matters.

As the former PM, Najib was the top decision-maker of the country’s institution of power. Given the seriousness of the charges made against him and the astronomical amounts of money involved in the cases, the penalties handed down on him have been heavy. This will have major implications on the country’s judiciary as well as administration and even politics.

Politicians elected to be lawmakers and subsequently appointed to top government positions must cautiously exercise the powers entrusted to them. They must be fully transparent and open in all decision-making procedures in order to serve as role models for the nation. Politicians, in particular government leaders, must never involve themselves in government-linked companies (GLCs), less take up senior positions in them to avert possibility of power abuse.

Additionally, the appointment of GLC posts must also be transparent and not to be wholly decided by the prime minister or finance minister because they represent public interest. The High Court’s Tuesday verdict underscores judicial independence in this country. All individuals irrespective of their current or former positions must be given fair trials and verdicts. The judge’s verdict in the SRC case shows that the court has been free from political intervention, professional and impartial.

Najib earlier said he believed the court would clear his name and reiterated that he wanted his name cleared through the court. In addition to the SRC case, Najib also has four other cases awaiting trial at the Kuala Lumpur High Court. As all these cases are connected to the SRC and 1MDB cases, the outcome of the trial invariably catches the attention of the nation.

All these cases have been comprehensively investigated, gone through the necessary legal proceedings, prosecution by the AG’s Chambers, and been fairly tried in the court. Whatever the outcome is, all Malaysians must respect the court’s final verdict.