KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A court sentenced former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to serve up to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty of crimes involving the multibillion-dollar looting of a state investment fund that brought down his government in a shocking election ouster two years ago.
Najib was calm and stone-faced as he became the first Malaysian leader to be convicted. He has vowed to appeal the verdict and took an oath in brief remarks from the dock before the sentencing that he was unaware of the graft.
Judge Mohamad Nazlan Ghazali sentenced Najib to 12 years in jail on one count of abuse of power, 10 years each for three counts of criminal breach of trust, and 10 years each for three counts of money laundering, as well as a fine of 210 million ringgit ($48.4 million). But he ordered the sentences to run concurrently, meaning Najib will face up to 12 years in jail.
The ruling in the first of his five corruption trials came five months after Najib’s Malay party returned to government as the biggest bloc in an alliance that took power from the reformist government that ousted Najib's in 2018.
Analysts said the ruling would bolster the prosecution’s case in Najib’s other trials and would signal to the business community the Malaysia’s legal system has strength in tackling international financial crimes. But others cautioned the ruling could be overturned and his political party remains in office.
"I find the accused guilty and convict the accused of all seven charges,” Judge Mohamad Nazlan Ghazali said after spending two hours to read out an elaborate ruling.
After court resumed in the afternoon, Najib’s lawyers argued for a light sentence. The defense said it was “crippled” by the judge’s refusal to delay the sentencing arguments until next week. Prosecutors said the case had tarnished the country as a kleptocracy and sought a deterrent sentence to remind those in high public office that “no one is above the law.”
Speaking from the dock, Najib outlined his achievements during his nine-year tenure and swore in Arabic with God as his witness that he wasn't aware of the 42 million ringgit ($9.8 million) channeled into his bank accounts from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
“I did not demand the 42 million, I did not plan for the 42 million, nor was the 42 million offered to me. There has been no evidence nor witness to this. And I also like to say that I have no knowledge of the 42 million," Najib insisted.
Some of Najib's supporters outside the courthouse cried when they learned of the verdict while others chanted “free bossku” and “long live bossku." The nickname meaning “my boss” was coined for Najib in his social media campaign to reinvent himself as a working-class leader.
Najib, 67, faces between 15 and 20 years plus hefty fines for each of the seven charges and has vowed to fight to the end. He has said he was misled by rogue bankers and the case against him is political.
“I want justice. I want to clear my name," he wrote on Facebook late Monday. “After this, we will go to the Court of Appeal. I am ready." A scion of one of Malaysia’s most prominent political families, he faces 42 charges in five separate trial and could face years in prison.
The current trial involved a charge of abuse of power, three charges of criminal breach of trust and three money laundering charges.
The judge agreed with prosecutors that Najib had “overarching control” of SRC, failed to rebut the allegations against him and that prosecutors had established beyond reasonable doubt that Najib misappropriated money for his own use.