By Elizabeth Hearst
The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak has been found guilty in a groundbreaking trial on charges of abuse of power, breach of trust and money laundering.
The 67-year-old who once received a photograph of himself and Donald Trump inscribed “To my favourite prime minister” from the current US President, was found guilty on seven charges of corruption on Tuesday.
Mr Najib was accused of pillaging $4.5 Billion from the country’s investment fund (1MDB). He faces twelve years behind bars and was fined nearly $50 Million according to The New York Times.
Anwar Ibrahim, opposition leader of the Pakatan Harapan coalition welcomed the decision and said: “For over a decade the 1MDB scandal has been a blight on our nation’s reputation and has been the source of much anguish for the Malaysian people”.
“Money which should have been utilized for development and assisting the poor was diverted to illicit gains benefiting a former prime minister and his friends,” he added.
Najib Razak’s 45-year tenure in politics began when he was elected to Parliament at 22. The son and nephew of former prime ministers, it seemed that he was also destined to hold the highest office.
His political party was dealt a massive blow as they were ousted from power in 2018, following these allegations, but have since regained control of the country through assistance of the King.
Malaysian’s are not celebrating yet, as many believe that this ruling will be appealed. In an interview with The New York Times, James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania has warned against any jubilation.
He said: “People should not be celebrating, because in the Malaysian context, many of these judgements in these political cases get reversed in the appeals court… I expect Najib to appeal and he will probably win the appeal”.
The trial revolves around the suspected theft of billions from a state investment fund – 1MDB where it is alleged that the finances were used to purchase luxury goods such as a mega-yacht, a Picasso painting and was used to finance some of the Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
It is also alleged that around $1 Billion ended up in Mr Najib’s personal bank account. The court rejected any claims that the former prime minister was unaware of the funds and that he was a victim of a scam.
Mr Najib’s stepson, Hollywood producer Riza Aziz was also embroiled in the investigation. In May prosecutors dropped money-laundering charges against Mr Aziz who was accused of receiving $248 Million in government funds. Mr Aziz – the producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street” was allowed to keep $83 Million under the terms of the agreement reached.
Following Mr Najib’s party’s defeat in the 2018 election as a result of the on-going 1MDB scandal and his involvement, authorities raided properties owned by Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansour. They seized more than $270 Million in cash, jewellery, tiaras and other valuable items as reported by The New York Times.
Mr Najib’s lead defense lawyer, Muhammed Shafee Abdullah pleaded for leniency for his client due to Mr Najib’s “lifetime in public service”. He described how Mr Najib had spent only a small amount of the money on himself, with nearly half earmarked for political purposes and 14% siphoned to charity.
Mr Najib was not downtrodden by the verdict and addressed his supporters by saying that it was “not the end of the world because there’s a process of appeal”. He urged his supporters to continue to “believe” in him and “believe” in their “struggle”.