By finding former Prime Minister Najib Razak guilty on all seven counts with which he was charged ~ one of abuse of power and three each of criminal breach of trust and money laundering, the High Court of Malaysia has brought the curtains down on one aspect of the country’s greatest political scandal since its independence in 1957.
In what is known as the 1MDB scandal, Razak was first accused in 2015 of channelling over Malaysian Ringgit 2.67 billion ($700 million) from 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, a government-run strategic development company, to his personal accounts.
As the scandal unravelled, it was discovered that the company had $11.73 billion in debt, some of which resulted from a state-guaranteed bond issue led by Goldman Sachs. Just last week, Goldman Sachs had reached a $3.9 billion settlement with the Malaysian government for its role in the corruption scheme. In doing so, the firm had said there were important lessons to be learnt and “we must be self-critical to ensure that we only improve from the experience.”
While the seven charges on which Razak has been convicted carry prison terms of between 15 and 20 years, the 67-year-old former premier faces in all 42 charges of corruption, abuse of power and money laundering across five different cases in relation to the development company whose executive board he chaired.
American authorities have alleged that more than $4.5 billion was embezzled in all from the fund, and used around the world on luxury yachts, paintings, highend properties and even to finance Wolf of Wall Street, the Hollywood film featuring Leonardo de Caprio. Razak’s conviction appears to confirm Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s commitment to “not interfere” in graft cases against prominent politicians of the United Malays National Organisation, even though they are his allies in the five-month old government that assumed power after the resignation of Mr Mahathir Mohammed.
Concerns about political interference were raised after money laundering charges against Razak’s stepson, Riza Aziz, relating to 1MDB funds were dropped in May, in a settlement reached with prosecutors. While the judgment of the High Court is categorical, Razak will hope to have it overturned in either the Court of Appeal or the Federal Court.
Certainly, the former Prime Minister plans to fight the matter to the bitter end, as he said in a Facebook post on Monday. “Whatever the decision tomorrow at the high court, it does not end here”, he said. But for now, many Malaysians will be relieved they have got some closure in a matter that had deeply divided the country and caused a political upheaval that resulted in Razak’s party losing power after 61 years.