Dennis Ignatius: Let justice be done

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Truth be told, no other person in Malaysia’s history has ever been given as much leeway as Najib.

In the wake of the Federal Court’s decision to reject Najib’s twin requests to adduce additional new evidence and to further delay the hearing of his final appeal, an almost surreal air of anticipation has descended upon the nation. Malaysians are transfixed as never before by what is going on, convinced that they might be about to witness something truly historic.

Not everyone, however, shares the moment. UMNO leaders appear particularly worried about what a possible defeat for Najib might mean for them. UMNO president Zahid Hamidi, himself facing serious criminal charges and who could well suffer the same fate, moaned about the credibility of the justice system.[1] UMNO deputy president Mohamad Hasan insinuated that the court had deprived Najib of his right to a fair trial by acting with undue haste.[2] In the meantime, UMNO secretary-general Ahmad Maslan played up allegedly leaked MACC documents pertaining to its investigation into corruption allegations involving one of the judges in Najib’s trial.[3]

They offered excuses; they diverted attention; they kept silent even when the ugly truth about 1MDB was laid bare before them, and now they have the temerity to pretend to be concerned about the integrity of the justice system.

It’s all part of a high-powered campaign to once again seek to discredit the judicial system and posit the view that Najib is somehow a victim of a political plot, an innocent man falsely slandered and deprived of his rights to a fair trial. Clearly, they are worried that Najib’s conviction might cause Malay voters to finally see that behind all the talk of ‘bangsa, agama dan negara’ is a corrupt, self-serving party that has enriched itself at the expense of the people it professed to fight for. With elections around the corner, that could spell big trouble for them and possibly result in yet more charges against people who long thought themselves above the law.

Of course, UMNO leaders are not the only ones to raise eyebrows. Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim, who went from condemning Najib to extolling his virtues, made some rather bizarre remarks after the Federal Court’s ruling.[4] He expressed disappointment at the court’s decision, heaped effusive praise on his colleague and law firm partner (who led the charge for Najib) and promised he would not abandon his client. Shortly thereafter, his ever “so passionate, so forceful and so believing in the cause” partner applied to discharge himself.

Truth be told, no other person in Malaysia’s history has ever been given as much leeway as Najib. He has had some of the best lawyers that money can buy. His trial, which has gone on for over two years now, witnessed innumerable delays, often for reasons that the public found hard to comprehend. He accused one of the judges of bias and corruption. He mounted a slick political and public relations campaign to promote himself as a great statesman being unfairly targeted by his political opponents and a biased legal system. Through it all, the courts have been patient (some would say indulgent), treating Najib with a great deal of deference and respect, even allowing him to travel abroad after being convicted.

To now claim that he has not been fairly treated – as his recent letter suggests – is utter nonsense, pure theatre, the act of a desperate man frantic to stay the hand of justice and avoid the inevitable. His pleas are pathetic, feeble and self-serving, calculated simply to appeal for sympathy and to lay the groundwork of a possible judicial review if not a pardon. He’s a victim not of some political conspiracy but of his own avarice, vainglory and moral turpitude. He has no one to blame but himself for the mess that he’s in.

Whatever it is, Malaysians are weary of the way he has made a mockery of the justice system, weary of all his shenanigans, weary of the way he has held the nation hostage with his endless political schemes to bring down successive governments. It’s time to end the farce.

Justice served in the case of the People V Najib Tun Razak will, undoubtedly, have a powerful cathartic effect upon the nation. It will restore hope, serve notice that no one is above the law, provide the space we need to recover from the long years of abuse and neglect under successive UMNO governments.

It’s been a long time coming. Justice and the rule of law have returned to our shores once more. And for that, we have to thank the courageous men and women of the judiciary and, of course, the Pakatan Harapan government which sowed the seeds of change that are making these heady days possible.

“Let justice be done though the heavens fall!” – Dennis Ignatius