Halving of former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s jail sentence only half the story, shocked Malaysians learn

Najib has gone to court to compel the govt to produce a purported addendum order by the King allowing him to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest

A picture of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Pardons Board reduced Najib’s jail sentence from 12 to six years and reduced the fine from RM210 million to RM50 million. (Photo: Getty Images)

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Harapan-led coalition government are in a bind.

Whatever they say or do regarding former prime minister Najib Razak’s claim that the former King had issued an order that he serve the rest of his corruption-related jail sentence under house arrest will damage them.

It will also put a further strain on the relationship of the partners in the PH-led coalition, especially between UMNO and PH.

Timing all wrong

And the timing is all wrong, as there is a by-election for the state seat of Kuala Kubu Baharu in Selangor on 11 May following the death of PH assemblywoman Lee Kee Hiong.

Najib, the former UMNO president, has been in prison since 23 August 2022 - after exhausting all legal avenues, right up the Federal Court - for embezzling RM42 million in funds belonging to SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

He filed a petition for a royal pardon in September 2022 and the Pardons Board of the Federal Territories chaired by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or King sat to deliberate on it on 29 January, a day before Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah’s five year-term expired.

In Malaysia, each of the state’s Rulers takes turns to reign as King for a five-year term.

Najib’s jail sentence reduced, public unhappy

The Pardons Board reduced Najib’s jail sentence from 12 to six years and reduced the fine from RM210 million to RM50 million. This meant that he could be released in August 2028.

The news sent Malaysians into a frenzy of debate, with many questioning the leniency shown to the former prime minister. Some asked if an ordinary person jailed for stealing food for her family would receive similar consideration.

Anwar and his allies, especially PKR and the DAP, came under fire, with critics asking what had happened to their much-vaunted fight against corruption.

Under the law, the Agong has the power to grant a pardon, reprieve or respite for offences which have been tried by the courts – civil or military - committed in the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya. The five-member board, which includes the attorney-general, advises him.

Anwar could only say that he respected the King's decision and that the pardons process was "beyond the prime minister or the government".

He had however said that other corruption trials faced by Najib would continue.

As usual, the furore died down after a while and everyone thought the matter ended. Not so, it seems.

Halving of Najib’s sentence only half the story

It now appears that the sentence reduction was only half the story.

And a new storm is brewing following claims that the King had issued an addendum order that Najib be allowed to complete the rest of his jail sentence under house arrest.

Earlier this year there were some whispers about such an order.

On 8 March, UMNO vice-president and former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob asked the government in Parliament if it was true that house arrest was a component of Najib’s royal pardon application.

“Is this true? If yes, was it discussed when the pardon application was presented and what was the decision?” the Bera MP asked.

There was silence from the government side.

On 1 April, Najib filed an application seeking leave to commence a judicial review to implement a purported addendum order by the Agong linked to the order that halved his jail sentence to six years.

Najib wants court to compel govt to produce addendum order

He wants the court to compel the government to produce the addendum order and implement it. The purported order, he claims, allows him to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest.

Najib named seven respondents in his suit: the home minister, the commissioner-general of prisons, the attorney-general, the Federal Territories Pardons Board, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (law and institutional reform), the director-general of the Legal Affairs Division and the Malaysian government.

The High Court heard Najib’s application yesterday, but in camera. This followed an application by Najib's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah to disallow the public from being present in court due to “several sensitive materials” in the case.

Justice Amarjeet Singh Serjit Singh later fixed June 5 to rule on whether Najib can proceed with his bid to compel the government to produce the purported order.

Ministers add spice to the drama

Adding to the drama was an affidavit signed by none other than current UMNO president and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, which was presented in court.

He claimed in the affidavit filed on April 9 that he had been shown a copy of the purported addendum order by fellow Cabinet member Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz on his phone at the former’s house in Kajang on 30 January.

“The contents of the addendum order expressly stated that the applicant be allowed to serve the reduced sentence of his imprisonment under the condition of 'home arrest', instead of the current confinement of Kajang Prison.

“I verily believe that for the sufficient period of time I sighted and read the addendum order, and I clearly saw the entire contents and that it forms part of the pardon process of the applicant which is supplementary to the main order both dated January 29,” Ahmad Zahid said in the affidavit.

To make thing even more interesting, Tengku Zafrul said later that day (17 April) that there were factual errors in Zahid’s affidavit.

“I will be taking steps to obtain appropriate legal advice and seek to write to the High Court to ask for permission or leave to file an affidavit to correct certain factual errors contained in the affidavit in question,” he said in a statement.

He added: “I take no position in so far as the merits of the ongoing dispute is concerned but I merely wish to ensure that the factual record is properly reflected and recorded so that all parties and in particular the High Court is properly appraised of all material facts.”

Anwar under pressure

Even before the case came up, several individuals, mostly connected to UMNO or Najib, urged the government to come clean on the claim about the existence of an addendum order.

The calls have only increased since news of Zahid’s affidavit was reported. Some are already asking if the claim is true, why didn’t the government reveal it.

Amidst all this, the former King has maintained silence. And that itself is very interesting.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail had earlier denied seeing such an addendum order.

"I have no knowledge of the additional document and I have not seen it," he told reporters on 4 April.

All eyes are now on how Anwar and Attorney-General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh will handle the situation.

Can they legally go against an order of the King? And why have they maintained silence on it if it existed? Was there some legal issue in the pardons board process itself that made them choose not to reveal the purported order?

The winners and losers

But no matter how Anwar handles this, he and PH will be the losers. Already many PH supporters have become disillusioned by the slow pace of promised reforms.

They have also been disappointed that cases against some politicians connected to UMNO have been dropped.

Zahid himself was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal by the High Court on 5 Sept last year following an application by the prosecution. He had been slapped with 47 charges related to corruption, money laundering and criminal breach of trust.

PH will lose because the fissure between some of the coalition parties – especially between UMNO and DAP – may widen.

Zahid will gain because UMNO members who back Najib will throw their full weight behind his presidency – at least until the next party election.

UMNO will gain because Najib still has considerable clout and his presence could help strengthen the terribly weakened party.

Najib will gain because – if the claim is true and the government follows the order – he can enjoy home-cooked food while playing an active behind the scenes role in party and national politics.

A.Kathirasen is a veteran Malaysian journalist/editor who has been writing columns, with breaks, in newspapers and online since 1981. All views expressed are the writer's own.

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