Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s prison term halved in 1MDB scandal, sparks outcry over impunity

The pardons board cut in half the prison term of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak for embezzling funds from 1MDB, sparking fears of impunity in the area.

Sentenced to 12 years in prison for embezzling money from Malaysia’s state-owned wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), former prime minister Najib Razak has had his sentence halved by the country’s pardons board. Najib was also fined 50 million ringgit instead of the original 210 million, a sum he needs to pay in full to be released in August 2028. This reduction came from the board. He will serve an additional five years, or until 2029, if he is unable to make this payment.

South East Asia was rocked by Najib’s 2022 arrest, which exposed a rare instance of accountability in a country where powerful people frequently escape punishment. James Chin, an Asian Studies professor at the University of Tasmania, says the reduced sentence has raised fears that it would convey a message of impunity to authorities in the region.

The decision was made in response to reports that Najib’s release application was discussed at the pardons board meeting on the final day of King’s presidency. The monarchy in Malaysia is a rotating system; on January 31, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar succeeded King Abdullah Ahmad Shah.

According to analysts, there’s a possibility that the judgement was leaked to control possible backlash. After all other legal options were exhausted, Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has been advocating for a royal pardon. Supporters of UMNO, who gained from Najib’s policies while he was in power, still hold favourable opinions of him despite the harm the 1MDB scandal did to his reputation.

Najib’s party is still among the biggest in Malaysia, despite not being as powerful as it once was. It is also a member of the coalition that governs, which is headed by Anwar Ibrahim, Najib’s political opponent. To appease UMNO leaders who are pushing for Najib’s release, the decision to shorten his term was made.

A recap of the 1MDB scandal:

In the 1MDB scandal, billions of funds meant for Malaysia’s public development projects ended up in private pockets, notably Najib’s. It was a complicated web of fraud and deceit. The scheme’s alleged mastermind, Jho Low, is a fugitive banker who Malaysian officials suspect to be in Macau.

The 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign wealth fund, which was founded in 2009 while Najib was prime minister, is at the centre of the controversy. The fund, which was created to promote economic growth, came under fire in 2015 after it failed to make payments that were due to bondholders and banks.

Authorities in Malaysia and the United States claim that $4.5 billion was unlawfully taken out of the fund and placed into personal accounts, financing expensive real estate, a private plane, priceless artwork, and even the filming of the popular Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

In response to allegations that it misled investors when it assisted in raising $6.5 billion for 1MDB, American bank Goldman Sachs and the Malaysian government negotiated a $3.9 billion settlement last week.