Commentary: Who benefits from former Malaysia PM Najib’s partial pardon?

The controversial halving of Najib Razak’s 12-year sentence, related to the 1MDB corruption scandal, appears to be a boon to multiple stakeholders, says an ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow.

(CNA) – While Malaysia ushers in a new monarch under its unique rotating system, attention is divided between the pageantry of the coronation and the fate of an inmate in the infamous Kajang prison.

Last week, tongues and TikTok accounts were atwitter with the news that former prime minister Najib Razak may get out of prison sooner than anticipated. The first national leader in Malaysia to be convicted and imprisoned, Najib began his 12-year sentence for criminal breach of trust, money laundering, and abuse of power pertaining to SRC – an affiliate of the strategic investment fund 1MDB – in August 2022.

Following his incarceration, Najib’s lawyers appealed the monarch for a pardon in September 2022 and April 2023. Under Malaysia’s legal system, the power to grant full or partial pardons lies with the king. While receiving advice from the Pardons Board, which includes the Attorney-General, the Minister of Federal Territories, and three other members, the monarch had sole prerogative to decide.

On Jan 29, the Pardons Board met with the king, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, for the last time before he yielded the crown to the Sultan of Johor. While Malaysians waited for the decision with bated breath, the board and Cabinet members kept mum – not wishing to divert attention from the royal proceedings.

Some were too keen by half, with Utusan Melayu – the newspaper long affiliated with Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – jumping the gun and reporting that he had been fully pardoned. However, the daily later had to issue a retraction, as this could not be verified.

Following this, CNA broke the story that King Abdullah slashed Najib’s sentence from 12 to six years, and also reduced the accompanying fine of RM210 million (US$44.5 million) to an undisclosed amount. The official decision by the Pardons Board on Friday (Feb 2) confirmed the halving of Najib’s sentence.

The board announced that Najib’s fine would be reduced to RM50 million, but he would need to serve an additional year in prison if it is not paid. The specific wording of the Pardons Board’s declaration looks to rule out an earlier release for good behaviour.


While the internal discussions held by the board will be kept private, it appears that there are several motives for the reduction. The first would be the spirit of reconciliation, given that Najib is a senior political figure who still commands considerable support within his party, UMNO.

The second would be links between the monarch and Najib, given that the latter is also from Pahang and is a member of that state’s aristocracy. Yet, in granting only a reduction in Najib’s sentence as opposed to a full pardon, the outgoing monarch is spared any later embarrassment should the former prime minister be convicted of any of his pending charges and receive another custodial sentence.

Beyond this, this legal denouement is likely to be relatively well-received by various quarters.

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