Najib’s camp expected to clamour for his release, say analysts

They say Najib Razak’s loyalists will use Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s verdict to back the ex-PM’s claim that he is a victim of politically motivated prosecutions.

(FMT) – The conditional discharge secured by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi from prosecution in his Yayasan Akalbudi case will embolden Najib Razak’s loyalists to exert pressure for the former prime minister’s release from incarceration, say analysts.

Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani of Bower Group Asia said following the verdict in Zahid’s case, Umno will likely seek that Najib be released from jail as they believe the former prime minister was also the victim of a politically motivated prosecution.

“Zahid will also be under pressure from the party grassroots to push for Najib’s release, especially after the Umno president vowed to fight for Najib’s freedom at the party’s annual general assembly earlier this year,” he told FMT.

On Monday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court granted Zahid a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) on all 47 corruption, criminal breach of trust (CBT) and money laundering charges he was facing despite finding that a prima facie case had been made out against him.

Najib, on the other hand, was tried in the High Court and convicted by Justice Nazlan Ghazali on seven charges related to abuse of power, CBT and money laundering involving RM42 million in funds belonging to SRC International.

He was fined RM210 million and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, which he is currently serving.

Subsequent appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court were dismissed on Dec 8, 2021 and Aug 23 last year, respectively. On March 23 this year, the apex court refused the former prime minister’s application for leave to have its decision in the appeal reviewed.

Akademi Nusantara’s Azmi Hassan said Najib’s supporters will take advantage of the fact that the attorney-general had requested the DNAA after High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah ordered that Zahid enter his defence to the charges.

“(That makes) it seem very believable that Najib’s case was also a political prosecution,” he said.

Asrul, however, warned that the unity government may not complete a full term in office if Najib is released, as Pakatan Harapan supporters are already “uncomfortable” with the discharge granted to Zahid.

“Najib’s release can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the unity government,” he said.

Azmi added Zahid’s DNAA also creates a perception that the deputy prime minister’s continued presence in government would help Najib’s cause.

He said this situation is not too different from when former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s prison sentence was commuted from eight years to one at the beginning of this month after the billionaire submitted a request for a royal pardon.

This came shortly after the appointment of Thailand’s new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, a former property magnate and member of the Pheu Thai party who has had a long-standing association with Thaksin.

Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Pawi also believes the verdict in Zahid’s case will make Najib’s supporters more vocal in seeking a halt to four ongoing cases the former prime minister is facing.

These relate to the alleged tampering of 1MDB’s audit report, misuse of 1MDB funds amounting to RM2.3 billion, and misappropriation of RM6.6 billion in public funds involving payments to International Petroleum Investment Company.

Najib is also facing money laundering charges, in which he is alleged to have accepted proceeds from illegal activities amounting to RM27 million through three AmPrivate Banking accounts.