Shocked and betrayed: Ordinary Malaysians dismayed over Najib’s reduced jail time

(Straits Times) – Ordinary Malaysians have expressed shock over the Pardons Board’s decision to halve the jail sentence of former prime minister Najib Razak, with some saying justice in the country has been eroded.

The Pardons Board, at a meeting on Jan 29 chaired by the previous King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, decided to halve Najib’s 12-year prison sentence to six years, and to reduce the original fine of RM210 million (S$59.8 million) to RM50 million. It announced the decision on Feb 2.

Najib has so far served 17 months in prison after being convicted of graft linked to RM42 million belonging to SRC International, a former subsidiary of troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Malaysians whom The Straits Times spoke to said they felt betrayed by the board’s decision, and that it sets a bad precedent for the nation. Some declined to give their full names due to the sensitivity of speaking out against the royal pardon.

“We voted for Najib and trusted him, but our money was stolen for his family’s enjoyment. With this new decision, leaders of this country will have no fear again to do corrupt deals. A bad decision and a bad example for Malaysia,” a 43-year-old secretary, who gave her name only as Ms Hamimah, told ST.

Another person, who gave her name as Ms Wilson, said Najib should complete his full prison sentence, saying the board’s decision has made a mockery of Malaysia’s judiciary.

“I would not be surprised if the six years in prison is reduced to two years eventually, or they even let him go entirely,” said the 48-year-old executive.

The SRC International case was heard at several levels of the justice system, with a total of nine judges from three courts, namely the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court, finding Najib guilty.

“It’s ridiculous that Najib can get away with graft-linked charges. This will be another reason why investors will not want to come to Malaysia because now they know that there is no justice in the country,” said a 38-year old lawyer Charanpal Gill.

“It was with shock and disbelief I read that the world’s biggest kleptocrat had his sentence halved. This means it is okay to steal, rob, and even if I get caught, I get to keep my loot and spend a short time in a nice jail with my Armani suits,” said a retired academic, who gave his name as Dr Ananda.

The news has also fired up social media, with many users questioning the reason for the decision and condemning Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s 14-month-old administration.

“Well I now know who not to vote for in the next GE (general election)”, X user Jambul said.

Another social media user, Arabelle, said: “Madani government proving to be once again useless. We need new politicians. Also reminder to watch Netflix’s documentary Man On The Run on exactly what Najib has stolen from this country while millions struggle.”

Mr Anwar’s “Madani government” slogan uses an Arabic term that can be roughly translated to mean a humane civilisation. And the 98-minute Netflix documentary focuses on the lavish lifestyle of fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low, and his links with Najib and the billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB.

“Moral of the story: Malaysia is only half serious about fighting corruption. Nice message to the rest of the world. We are the laughing stock once more,” said Facebook user James Tan.

Another Facebook user, Ida Lopez, quipped: “Very generous gesture to a person who caused immense shame to Malaysia.”

Other social media users questioned the Anwar-led unity government’s role in Najib’s commuted sentence, comparing it to another controversial decision in September 2023 when Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi walked free of 47 graft charges mid-trial after being granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.

X user Anne James said: “Will Najib’s other cases now be discharged not amounting to an acquittal, or will the prosecutors conveniently do such a bad job that the judges will have to throw the cases out? Is that the quid pro quo between…?”

Najib faces another three ongoing criminal cases. He is accused of illicitly receiving US$681 million (S$909.4 million) of 1MDB funds via British Virgin Islands shell company Tanore Finance, laundering RM27 million belonging to SRC International, and committing breach of trust involving RM6.6 billion in government funds paid to Abu Dhabi’s government-owned International Petroleum Investment Company.

Nevertheless, the disgraced former president of Umno remains influential in political circles and still enjoys support, particularly among the Malay grassroots.

Private Umno Facebook page user Dahlan Dahlan posted: “Pray for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to be released so it can help to increase the country’s economy.” Another user of the private Facebook page, Yakskin Azzuro, said: “Thankful, but Datuk Seri Najib still has cases. The (ongoing) cases must be cancelled.”

Najib’s daughter Nooryana Najwa Najib shared her disappointment in an Instagram post: “While we appreciate the reduction of sentence from 12 years to six years by Pardons Board, we are disappointed that Datuk Seri Najib was not granted a full pardon and was not immediately released. Najib Razak and his family stick to their stand that he is innocent.”