The case of the former prime minister, sentenced to 12 years for his outrageous thefts from the nation, is of the highest public interest and yet in Malaysia we see him not only allowed to roam free whilst he appeals his conviction, but to continue to sit in Parliament.
Now, more than a year after the original conviction, the delay in progressing that appeal is itself becoming a national embarrassment and an indicator that behind the scenes efforts are being made to influence the outcome of the judicial process.
On this subject please reference the warning of the former prime minister before Ismail Sabri elbowed him aside, which was the Najib’s party UMNO would indeed move to abuse its political power, if allowed back in office, in order to get its leaders off the hook over the swathe of criminal charges relating to their corrupted governance.
He revealed that he himself was put under pressure to do just this and at the same time conceded that a ruling prime minister does indeed possess the power to bring pressure on the courts. So much for Malaysia’s independent judiciary.
So far a steady stream of senior UMNO power-brokers have seen their charges dropped and the cases against them collapse following the backdoor coup. No one can be under any illusion but that Najib’s present top priority is to join their escape route.
The party meanwhile not only have no shame in him continuing in their ranks but worse having seized back political power through the backdoor and with the assistance of the present Agong (also the long friendly Sultan of Najib’s home state) the present UMNO prime minister has exalted this convict to a senior position advising on policy and leading campaigns.
Given that Najib’s present priority is no secret, there can be no surprise that the talk currently swirling around KL’s legal circles has been of increasingly thuggish pressure on his part to get the Appeal Court judges to overturn one of the most rock solid judgements in Malaysian legal history, namely his conviction by Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali in July of 2020.
What other reason can there be for the quite extraordinary delay in the case following constant postponements and lengthy periods of silence?
It took almost an entire year for the appeal to be even heard last May in what was an unusually long and laboured session with Najib’s lawyers pouring out their standard torrent of scatter-gun challenges and complaints.
Now, a full eight months on from that hearing, there has been no sound from the panel of three judges as to what their conclusions are. This is not normal nor acceptable and it has moved beyond excuses into the territory of dark suspicion.
Even in the most inefficient jurisdiction under the cosh of Covid the Najib case ought to have stood out as a case of national importance deserving the swiftest expedition. On all normal criteria the production of this judgement should have gone to the front of the queue to give the nation closure. Instead, it has drifted into oblivion.
In consequence, the high level perpetrator of one of the largest thefts in global history has been allowed to work his way back into a position of enormous power.
Contrast the Malaysian judiciary’s treatment of the Najib case with the UK courts’ handling of the complaint that Boris Johnson had exceeded power by proroguing Parliament in 2019.
The UK case was raced through the Appeal Court and on to the Supreme Court judgement in DAYS. Meanwhile, the judgement on Najib’s appeal has yet to be pronounced one year and three months later.
This appalling dragging of judicial feet had given legs to all the rumours that are rife. The present widespread concern circulating in judicial circles is that not only has Najib used all his resources to bully the Appeal Court directly, but that in the face of the court’s evident and righteous reluctance to be strong-armed from its objective duty, he has now sought to engage the King to bring further pressure in his favour.
Since May three judges have held out against giving a judgement that was plainly arrived at months ago. Were that judgement to have been in favour of this powerful kingpin of both the PN and UMNO governments, namely Najib, there would have been no reason for delay – those in charge would have been delighted and the judges would have trodden on roses.
Only if the judgement had been negative (in keeping with the powerful evidence that convicted Najib in the first place) would there have been the slightest reason for so much dilly dallying and postponement.
We can therefore guess what the Appeal Court judgement is. For the King to interfere on behalf of his home state friend and ally (and mega-kleptocrat) would be unconscionable and deeply damaging to the reputation of the nation and its leaders. He should not be asked to do so.