Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak has been found guilty in a graft trial and sentenced to 12 years in prison with a fine of £38 million by a court in Kuala Lumpur.
The court found him guilty of corruption in the first of five trials over the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal.
For 45 years, Najib Razak was a master of Malaysia’s cutthroat politics. The son and nephew of prime ministers, he was elected to Parliament at 22 and rose to the country’s highest office. As prime minister he was all but untouchable — critics called him the “Man of Steal” — even as $4.5 billion disappeared from a government investment fund he controlled.
On Tuesday, he was finally held to account.
After years of allegations that he pilfered government coffers to lead a life of excess and luxury, he was found guilty on seven corruption counts and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison and fined nearly $50 million. The sentence was stayed pending appeal.
The sweeping verdict was a stunning setback for Mr. Najib, whose political party had recently returned to power after forcing out the reformist government that won elections in 2018.
His political foes applauded the verdict and praised the independence of the trial court. But experts said the verdict could be overturned on appeal in what is likely to be a years-long process.
The severity of the sentence came as a surprise to some, after the government recently cut a deal with Mr. Najib’s stepson that allowed him to keep millions of dollars that were believed to have been stolen from the same Malaysia Development Berhad fund.
Tuesday’s trial was the first of five related to the theft of billions from the investment fund, commonly known as 1MDB, and Mr. Najib was found guilty on all seven charges of abuse of power,breach of trust and money laundering.
Before the sentence was pronounced, Mr. Najib appealed to the judge for leniency, noting his contributions as a public official and that the country prospered during his nine years as prime minister. He said he did not solicit the $9.8 million payment nor was it offered to him.
Mr. Najib, 67, still faces dozens of additional charges. Many of the charges against him carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Mr. Najib remains a member of Parliament, and his party, popularly known as UMNO, returned to power in February, improving the chances that he will not have to spend time behind bars. His conviction could undermine the credibility of the current government headed by his ally, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, which came to power without an election and holds a bare majority in Parliament.
James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania and an expert on Malaysian politics, said the guilty verdict would likely eventually be overturned on appeal.
“People should not be celebrating, because in the Malaysian context, many of the judgments in these political cases get reversed in the appeals court,” he said. “I expect Najib to appeal, and he will probably win the appeal. In the long term, I expect Najib to get away with it as long as UMNO is in power.”
In this trial, Mr. Najib faced seven charges of money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power for illegally receiving transfers of $9.8 million from SRC International, a former unit of the investment fund commonly known as 1MDB.
The sentence included 12 years for the abuse of power and 10 years for each of the other charges. In Malaysia, sentences run concurrently, so the maximum he would serve would be 12 years in prison.
Najib Razak served as the 6th Prime Minister of Malaysia from 2009 to 2018.