A royal pardon – here is why Najib’s case is different from Anwar’s

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It appears that at the very least, Najib has to accustom to the prison lifestyle for the next three years before a royal pardon can be considered.

Raja Faisal Hishan/The Star

Less than 24 hours after Najib Razak spent his first night as the Kajang Prison Complex’s newest inmate, questions have been raised on social media whether he receives special treatment. Photos of a luxury room equipped with a TV, air-con, book shelves, comfy beds, mini fridge and internet access dedicated to the ex-premier have gone viral, forcing the Prisons Department to deny it.

The photo might be fake, but it’s hard to blame the people for being suspicious of a system long plagued with double standards and corruption. More often than not, when the authorities said there is no VIP treatment for someone as special as Najib, chances are the reverse is true. After all, he was born with a silver spoon, hence it’s impossible he could last 12 days in jail, let alone 12 years.

Indeed, despite his best effort to put on a brave face and remain calm, a standing Najib fell into his seat in the dock upon hearing that the Federal Court upheld his guilty verdict, smashing his final appeal to pieces. It was the gloomiest moment for the 69-year-old crook and his family that saw wife Rosmah, who herself might go to jail too, wiping her tears, accompanied by their children.

It was not a mystery for the rich and elite to be accorded special privileges while serving a jail sentence in Malaysia. In 1989, corporate figure Abdullah Ang was seen going in and out of the same Kajang Prison, as if it was a hotel. Despite sentenced to eight years in prison, the boss of Malaysian Overseas Investment Corp was allowed to travel in a luxury car and run his business as usual.

Without ways to verify that Najib does not enjoy a luxurious lifestyle in his cell, some people have even asked – “How do we know he is actually inside the prison, and not somewhere else enjoying himself?” But there is something more urgent than making sure the world’s biggest crook is really serving his punishment in prison – will he get out of jail prematurely?

First get-out-of-jail option is to apply for a review of the decision by the Federal Court, which upheld the guilty verdict on Tuesday (Aug 23). Najib’s lawyers received instruction to boycott and threaten the court by not making any submissions under the pretext that the five-member bench led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun was unfair for not allowing an extension request (delay tactic) for four months.

Najib has falsely claimed that he didn’t get a fair trial. In truth, he knew the overwhelming evidence was stacked against him. Because the Federal Court was not the same Kangaroo Court it used to be during the era of the corrupted Barisan Nasional government prior to the 2018 General Election, he could not bribe or arrange friendly judges to deliver a favourable decision.

He figured it didn’t matter whether his hotshot legal eagle argues his appeal or not. None of the five senior judges was Najib-friendly because they disallowed every attempt to delay Najib’s final appeal. And since he was not going to win anyway, why not pretend that the apex court was biased, unfair and anti-Najib by throwing tantrums, including cooking up wild and fake accusations against the Chief Justice’s husband.

However, the success rate is extremely low for a review of the Federal Court’s decision. If a review could be used to easily reverse the highest court’s decision, it will show that the apex court is unreliable and incompetent in the first place. To reverse its own decision is like shooting its own foot. Worse, if the review fails, it will lend more credence that Najib is guilty as hell.

Already, all three courts and nine judges (High Court – one, Court of Appeal – three, Federal Court – five) had delivered unanimous guilty verdicts on Najib. He has been found guilty of all seven charges – one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT), and three counts of money laundering – all involving RM42 million stolen from SRC International Sdn Bhd (a subsidiary of 1MDB).

A review will see a new panel of judges to hear whether Najib had suffered injustice or any abuse of process. However, the same Tengku Maimun, in her capacity as Chief Justice, will decide the new judges so the former PM should stop hallucinating that he would get Najib-friendly judges. That explains why even defence lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik was not sure if they should file for a review.

That’s also why it was a tactical mistake and arrogance to choose to go to war openly against the Federal Court, especially when the Chief Justice was leading the bench. Which part of “appeal” that Najib or his battalion of top lawyers didn’t understand? You don’t pick a fight, let alone threaten, when you appeal to the judges who will decide whether you go to jail or not.

If a review of conviction fails, which it certainly will, Najib’s scoreboard will worsen from 9-0 to 14-0. Najib would suffer greater humiliation with 14 judges delivering a guilty verdict, not to mention it could impact the chances of his royal pardon, which is his second option. But will he get a royal pardon based on his special relationship with King Sultan Abdullah of Pahang?

Wednesday also saw some 200 hardcore supporters of disgraced Najib flock to the Palace to hand in a memorandum requesting for an immediate pardon for the ex-Prime Minister, who walked the corridors of power from 2009 to 2018. Fantastic – after failing to get PM Ismail Sabri to interfere with the judiciary to help Najib, now his loyalists are calling for royal intervention.

It was a flop, regardless whether Najib was trying to do a Trump or Anwar, both of whom managed to rally thousands against law enforcers FBI and Barisan Nasional government, respectively, which tried to end their political careers. Najib had forgotten that unlike Trump and Anwar, he was sent to prison under the watch of the current UMNO government – his own government (*grin*).

But is it as simple as screaming at the Palace and handing over some papers requesting the monarch to free the crook and poof, Najib will walk away a free man tomorrow? Najib’s loyalists love to compare the ex-premier with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who walked free after receiving a royal pardon from Agong (King) Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan in May 2018 for his sodomy conviction.

As a start, the pardon process is not a walk in the park. It would take time. It’s not like going to McDonald’s for a burger. Anwar’s royal pardon was made possible after the stunning defeat of the Najib-led Barisan Nasional government in the May 2018 General Election. Before his pardon, Anwar had been serving his five-year prison term since 2015 after losing his final appeal at the Federal Court like Najib.

Immediately after he lost his final appeal on Feb 10, 2015, Anwar applied for a royal pardon, only to be rejected in March 2015, largely because he was the opposition leader. So, the decision to pardon was not in the hand of the King. Even though the King has the power to pardon, the monarch can only act after having consulted or been recommended by the Pardons Board.

Yes, effective 1994, after the Constitution was amended during the Mahathir administration to clip the power of the royal house, it was no longer the King’s personal discretion to decide on granting or refusing a pardon. The Pardons Board consists of the King, the Attorney General, Minister of Federal Territories and three other members appointed by the Malay Ruler.

However, it’s the Prime Minister’s Department that prepares a report for the Pardons Board. And the board shall consider any written opinion from the Attorney General. And both the PM and AG are not Najib-friendly. Meaning, King Sultan Abdullah cannot pardon any subject, including Najib, without the “consent” of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri, who saw Najib as his political threat.

To add salt to Najib’s wound, royal pardons are only granted for criminal cases, but not bankruptcy, which the former premier also faces. The best part is he has four more criminal court cases, all related to the 1MDB scandal. That’s why his defence lawyers were fighting nail and tooth to win – but ultimately failed – the first SRC International corruption case involving RM42 million.

Had Najib succeeded in overturning his conviction on Tuesday, all his pending four cases could be thrown away and the crook would be free. His second case is also linked to SRC International, involving money laundering totalling RM27 million. His third case is yet another corruption charge involving RM2.3 billion that he had stolen from 1MDB funds.

His fourth case involved criminal breaches of trust (CBT) committed with former secretary-general of Finance Ministry and 1MDB adviser Irwan Serigar Abdullah in siphoning RM6.64 billion of government funds.

His fifth case is the 1MDB audit report tampering, where he is charged with abuse of power, while former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy is charged with abetting him.

Najib is looking at maximum 20 years’ jail and whipping, as well as a fine, upon conviction for the rest of his four court cases. Even if the King, driven by personal sympathy, is eager to pardon Najib, exactly how many times can the monarch do it? The Pahang Sultanate’s integrity and reputation would be seriously tainted if the King foolishly intervenes at this hour to help one of his kind.

What type of message that the Malay monarch is sending to the people if he throws away all the hard work of nine senior judges over the last four years, just because the King wanted to protect Najib? It would be disgraceful to rape the Judicial, especially at a time when the country finally celebrates the courage of the Court Institution led by Tengku Maimun.

Even if Rosmah shed a river of her crocodile tears in front of the Queen, leading to pillow talks and the King wanted to intervene, it’s not possible for Najib to get out of jail within 14 days he began singing Kumbaya with his new prison buddies. Assuming PM Sabri readies to help Najib, which he doesn’t, Najib has to serve his prison sentence first for a certain period of time (Anwar was rotting for three years).

Then only the Pardons Board can begin its meetings because it still has to wait for reports from the prison to be prepared before it can advise the King. Without those reports, the AG will not be able to give his opinion. Here’s the best part – a second such petition is only allowed when a prisoner has completed three years from the date of conviction, and thereafter at two-year intervals

It appears that at the very least, Najib has to accustom to the prison lifestyle for the next three years before a royal pardon can be considered. This is where it gets interesting. By 2025, the current Agong would have passed the baton to the next Sultan, most likely Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, who too has spectacular relations with Najib. To avoid headaches, Sultan Abdullah – if he is smart – could choose to pass the problem to the new King.

The pressure on the Agong not to hastily intervene has already started. An online petition on Change.org, pleading with the King to reject any request for pardon involving Najib has attracted more than 75,000 signatures within 24 hours. That’s a lot of voices compared to 200 Najib supporters who wailed and whined at the Palace gate, which hilariously saw not a single participation from UMNO top leaders.

More importantly, the gravity of Najib’s corruptions makes Anwar’s sodomy case looks like child play. Anwar did not hurt anyone, except probably Mohd Saiful Bukhari’s crown jewel. The financial impact of Najib’s 1MDB scandal on the country will continue for generations. As of June 2022, the 1MDB debt stood at RM32.08 billion, despite the government having paid RM10.85 billion in debt commitments and interest since 2017.

But even if you believed Anwar had sodomized 23-year-old Saiful, the opposition leader’s second sodomy case was plagued with so many doubts that the defence could easily raise at least 12 reasonable doubts. For example, Saiful did not complain immediately after being sodomized, let alone flee. Even though he claimed to be terrified, he was happy enough for a “teh tarik” session with Anwar.

Saiful was clever enough to wash his underwear (an important piece of evidence), but not his anus. Strangely, his anus was not injured at all and the Federal Court accepted DNA samples as evidence even though it had been tampered. Anwar’s super sperm somehow managed to survive 56 hours. On the other hand, Najib had failed to raise even one reasonable doubt.

Crucially, unlike Najib, Anwar’s conviction was non-unanimous. In June 2012, Anwar was acquitted of a sodomy charge by Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin. The judge was not convinced that a DNA sample taken from the former aide, Saiful, had not been tainted. But on March 7, 2014, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and sentenced Anwar to five years in prison.

In Feb 10, 2015, a Federal Court panel chaired by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria rejected Anwar’s appeal and maintained the conviction. Arifin, who breached the law with his controversial re-appointments of Raus Sharif and Zulkefli Makinudin as additional judges in the Federal Court despite they reaching the compulsory age of retirement, was appointed as chairman of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) last year.

True, Najib will get his pardon and will not serve his full 12 years in prison or even two-thirds of it (one-third discount for good behaviour). Whether or when he gets a royal pardon will depend on who is the government of the day. For now, neither Prime Minister Ismail Sabri nor the majority of UMNO warlords want to commit suicide with the coming 15th General Election. – Finance Twitter