Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak was yesterday found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million (S$68 million) in the first of five trials he faces relating to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) graft scandal.
Observers said that the verdict could severely dent Najib's hopes of staging a political comeback if a snap election were to be called soon.
High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali found Najib, 67, guilty of every single charge, including abuse of power, and multiple counts of criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving RM42 million from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB.
"I find the accused guilty and convict him on all seven charges," said Justice Mohd Nazlan.
The sentences ranged between 10 years for each money laundering and criminal breach of trust charge and 12 years for abuse of power. Since they will run concurrently, it means Najib is required to serve up to a total of 12 years in prison.
The former prime minister remains free as he was granted a stay of execution pending his appeal against the verdict.
He has to post RM1 million bail today and is required to report to the police twice a month.
Justice Mohd Nazlan, in his two-hour long judgment, dismissed Najib's claim that the RM42 million in his bank account was a donation from the Saudi Arabian royal family.
Najib, who spoke in court during the mitigation hearing, had claimed: "I did not demand the RM42 million, I did not plan for it, it was never offered to me... (there is) no evidence to say so."
The judge had earlier said: "It is very difficult not to characterise the entire Arab donation narrative as self-serving."
Najib's lead defence counsel Shafee Abdullah had also claimed the former prime minister was a "victim of scam" by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, which the judge ruled was "far fetched".
"All roads lead to Rome. In this case, they lead to Riyadh," the judge said, in a reference to the defence's arguments regarding the Saudi donation.
Najib had earlier arrived at the court accompanied by thousands of supporters who thronged the streets, raising concerns over social distancing amid the pandemic. Many were seen crying when news of the verdict reached them.
Najib retains his parliamentary seat in Pekan, Pahang, pending the appeal, but he will not be able to contest a general election while the guilty verdict stands.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin could use Najib's conviction as an opportunity to bolster his slim majority by calling snap elections, observers said. He is riding high in public opinion, having demonstrated his commitment to pursue graft cases, even against his own allies in the Perikatan Nasional government, and successfully tackled the coronavirus crisis.
Najib faces another 35 counts of corruption, abuse of power and money laundering in four other court cases relating to his role in the multibillion-dollar scandal involving 1MDB, the state fund he co-founded in 2009.
The charges were instituted under former ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan, after its shock win against Najib's Umno party in the May 2018 general election.
After yesterday's verdict, Tan Sri Muhyiddin asked Malaysians to have faith in the judicial system. "I understand the feelings and sentiments you are experiencing - but let me stress that the government will always uphold the rule of law."
The United States authorities claim over US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) was embezzled from 1MDB.
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