Najib pardon unlikely due to other charges and reputational risk to Malaysia: Analysts

Analysts say Former PM Najib’s release would have political repercussions as he is still seen as influential among Malay voters and could help regain their support for his party Umno, which is also a partner in the unity government led by PM Anwar Ibrahim.

Zunaira Saieed

Zunaira Saieed

The Straits Times


January 17, 2024

KUALA LUMPUR – The prospects of a royal pardon for jailed former prime minister Najib Razak are dim, say analysts, as the disgraced politician faces other ongoing charges and his early release could adversely affect Malaysia’s reputation.

“Najib has other charges which are still ongoing, so it may not make sense to have a conversation about pardons,” advisory firm BowerGroupAsia director Arinah Najwa told The Straits Times.

Najib has so far served 17 months of his 12-year prison sentence for graft linked to RM42 million (S$12 million) from SRC International, a former subsidiary of troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). He has exhausted all legal avenues of appeal and can only be released from prison by a royal pardon from Malaysia’s King.

He faces another three ongoing criminal cases. He is accused of illicitly receiving US$681 million (S$910 million) of 1MDB funds via British Virgin Islands shell company Tanore Finance, laundering RM27 million belonging to SRC International, and committing breach of trust involving RM6.6 billion in government funds paid to Abu Dhabi’s government-owned International Petroleum Investment Company.

Ms Arinah also noted that the Pardons Board, a six-member team headed by the King, would have to consider carefully whether Najib’s release is advisable so soon after he was convicted.

“The country’s reputation may be affected if they decide to pardon him as it can impact how Malaysia is perceived by other countries’ leaders and investors,” she told ST.

Najib’s bid to be released from prison was in the news last week, after Singapore’s CNA reported a Pardons Board meeting was slated to take place in the third week of January. On Jan 10, Najib’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah responded to the article saying his team and Najib “are in the dark” about the status of the pardon petition.

Analysts say Najib’s release would have political repercussions as he is still seen as influential among Malay voters and could help regain their support for his party Umno, which is also a partner in the unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

“There is a slim chance that this could factor in the Pardons Board’s decision,” said Mr Halmie Azrie Abdul Halim, a senior analyst at government regulatory affairs and political risk consultancy Vriens and Partners.

ST has learnt from a highly-placed source that the Prisons Department has submitted its report on Najib’s pardon to the Prime Minister’s Department’s Legal Affairs Division (BHEUU), which will then present it to the Pardons Board.

Such a report usually includes statements on the prisoner’s work, conduct, mental and physical condition and effect of imprisonment on his health.

However, ST was unable to confirm when the report was sent to the BHEUU, nor when the Pardons Board meeting will take place.

BHEUU declined to comment on ST’s queries.

“There is no time limit for when the report can be submitted, but a reasonable amount of time has to pass, generally three years, before a prisoner’s conduct is reviewed,” said senior constitutional lawyer Rajan Navaratnam.

The Pardons Board, headed by the King, consists of the Attorney-General or his representative, the Federal Territories Minister, and not more than three other members appointed by the King.

The King has the power granted by the federal constitution to grant a pardon to convicts.

Speculation on the Pardons Board meeting comes just weeks before the current King, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, steps down from the throne on Jan 31 after a five-year term. He is the ruler of Pahang, Najib’s home state.

The ruler of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, will then ascend the throne.

According to Datuk Seri Rajan, while the Prisons Department is at liberty to present its views in the report on the prisoner’s conduct, the King has the final say on the pardon.

“The pardon is at the sole discretion of the King, who will then decide on whether to pardon Najib, or cut short part of the jail term or grant an early release,” he told ST.

“Even though the Federal Constitution requires the Pardons Board to give its advice to the King, His Majesty is not bound to act on the advice given by the Board and has the absolute discretion whether to grant a pardon,” said Mr Rajan.

Najib’s lawyers applied for a royal pardon from the King in September 2022, on the basis that he did not receive a fair trial. In December 2023, they requested an update from BHEUU about the application, but no response has been received, said Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee.

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