PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak may serve a much shorter period in prison than the 12 years' jail sentence he received, even if he does not get a pardon soon, legal experts say.
The veteran politician's time in jail could be reduced by as much as four years for good behaviour, they said.
Najib has so far spent two nights in jail, after Malaysia's apex Federal Court on Tuesday (Aug 23) upheld a July 2020 High Court verdict that he should be imprisoned for 12 years and pay a fine of RM210 million (S$65.3 million) for his role in a case involving a former unit of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
He returned to court on Thursday morning for a hearing on another RM2.28 billion 1MDB embezzlement trial.
Ahead of his court appearance, his daughter Nooryana Najwa said in an Instagram story late on Wednesday night that Najib was adapting to a new routine in Kajang Prison, which was a far cry from his usually packed schedule.
"Alhamdulilah, Daddy is in good health and his fighting spirit is still strong," she wrote in the post.
Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor said on Thursday: "Datuk Seri is good, Alhamdullilah (God be praised)."
She was at the Kuala Lumpur court complex to lend support to Najib who appeared in court for his 1MDB trial. "Thank you so much for your support," she said.
As a prisoner, Najib could display good behaviour and be considered for an automatic one-third "remission", or reduction, of his jail term under the Prison Act, according to senior criminal lawyer Geethan Ram Vincent.
This means that he would have to serve only eight years out of the 12-year jail sentence.
He would not have to apply for remission as it would be an automatic consideration by the prison authorities, the lawyer added.
But Najib could face additional time in jail if he fails to pay the RM210 million fine imposed on him.
The court had earlier ruled that an extra five years in jail would be added to Najib's sentence if he did not pay the fine.
"At the end of eight years, if he still has not paid the fine of RM210 million, his sentence of five years in default will begin," Mr Geethan said.
"Once again, he will be entitled to a one-third remission, so he needs to serve 40 months. So all in all, if he doesn't pay the fine, he will be serving eight years plus 40 months."
Other lawyers have said that based on the principle of law, Najib can pay the fine whenever he wants within his 12-year prison term.
But if he qualifies for a one-third reduction in his jail term due to good behaviour, he would have to complete paying the fine before he ends his time in prison, former Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran told the Malay Mail.
Applying for parole
Another lawyer, Mr Ramesh NP Chandran, said prisoners can also apply for parole, although this is not common in Malaysia.
"Paroles will allow prisoners to get more than a one-third remission," he said.
"The Prisons Department will submit your application to the Parole Board Secretariat (under the Home Ministry), but you will have to show exceptional good behaviour, prove that you are not a threat to society or danger to anyone, or (that there are) medical reasons. Then, you will have a better chance for early release."
According to the Home Ministry's website, Malaysia's parole system was introduced based on the Australian system to reduce overcrowding in prisons and the high maintenance cost.
The system came into effect on June 30, 2008. For a prisoner to qualify for parole, his sentence must be at least for one year and he must have served half of his sentence, not including the one-third remission period he is entitled to.