Malaysian court tosses jailed ex-Prime Minister Najib's bid to serve graft sentence in house arrest

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A Malaysian court on Wednesday dismissed a bid by imprisoned former Prime Minister Najib Razak to serve his remaining corruption sentence under house arrest.

In an April application, Najib said he had clear information that then-King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah issued an addendum order allowing him to finish his sentence under house arrest. Najib claimed the addendum was issued during a Jan. 29 pardons board meeting chaired by Sultan Abdullah, which also cut his 12-year jail sentence by half and sharply reduced a fine.

Najib’s counsel, Mohamed Shafee Abdullah, said it was disappointing for the High Court to rule Wednesday that the government has “no legal duty” to verify if such an order existed. He said they would file an appeal.

“The court said there is no legal duty but in terms of ethics, the government should have answered,” Shafee told a news conference at the court building.

In his application, Najib has accused the pardons board, home minister, attorney-general and four others of concealing the sultan’s order “in bad faith.” Sultan Abdullah hails from Najib’s hometown in Pahang. He ended his five-year reign on Jan. 30 under Malaysia’s unique rotating monarchy system. A new king took office Jan. 31.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said he had no knowledge of such an order as he wasn’t a member of the pardons board. The others named in Najib’s application have not made any public comments.

Shafee said Najib’s application was not based on hearsay but that there was “digital evidence” of the addendum as Trade Minister Zafrul Aziz had taken a snapshot of it on his mobile phone when told by Sultan Abdullah. He said the government’s silence also implied there is such an addendum order.

“One thing is clear, not one person or any government institutions have said that this addendum doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, just say so. … If the government dare says clearly there is no addendum, we can all go home and sleep,” he said.

Najib, 70, served less than two years of his sentence before it was commuted by the pardons board. His sentence is now due to end Aug. 23, 2028. He was charged and found guilty in a corruption case linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

The pardons board didn’t give any reason for its decision and wasn’t required to explain. But the move has prompted a public outcry on why Najib appeared to be given special privileges compared to other prisoners.

The Malaysian Bar, which represents over 20,000 lawyers, filed an application to challenge the pardons board decision that it said was illegal, unconstitutional and invalid. It said the decision made a mockery of Najib’s other ongoing criminal cases. The hearing for the Bar’s challenge started this week.

Najib set up the 1MDB development fund shortly after he took office in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates through layers of bank accounts in the United States and other countries, financed Hollywood films and extravagant purchases that included hotels, a luxury yacht, art and jewelry. More than $700 million landed in Najib’s bank accounts.

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