Malaysia’s top court has upheld former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s conviction and 12-year jail sentence for corruption in the 1MDB financial scandal.
Prosecutors say some $4.5bn was stolen from 1MDB state fund, which was co-founded in 2009 when Najib was the prime minister.
“We find the appeal devoid of any merits. We find the conviction and sentence to be safe,” Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat said on Tuesday behalf of a five-judge panel.
“Based on the foregoing, it is our unanimous view that the evidence led during the trial points overwhelmingly to guilt on all seven charges.”
Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from Kuala Lumpur, said that the verdict means his sentence of 12 years and a fine of approximately $45m is upheld.
“He will be headed to prison and it will likely happen today, becoming the first former prime minister to go to jail,” she said.
The former prime minister has been on bail since 2018, pending the appeal.
“The judgement also allays fears that the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to which Najib belongs, would interfere in the judicial process.”
A lower court in July 2020 found Najib guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1m) from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB, to his personal bank account.
An appellate court in December denied his appeal, prompting him to go to the Federal Court as a final recourse.
The chief justice said: “It would have been a travesty of justice of the highest order if any reasonable tribunal, faced with such evidence staring it in the face, were to find that the appellant is not guilty of the seven charges preferred against him”.
The Federal Court decision was handed down after a tribunal threw out a last-minute move by Najib’s lawyers to recuse the chief justice from hearing the case, alleging bias on her part.
“We saw Najib speak from the dock where he attempted to portray himself as a victim of justice. He sought to paint the high court judge who heard the initial case as biased,” Al Jazeera’s Looi said.
“Ultimately, the five-member panel dismissed those arguments.”
The Al Jazeera correspondent said Najib long sought to portray himself as a victim of political persecution. “That argument will hold no water now after the verdict given that his party is in power.”
Najib is a UK-educated son of one of Malaysia’s founding fathers who had been groomed for the prime minister’s post from a young age.
The final ruling on the jail sentence also came four years after his long-ruling party’s shock election defeat in 2018, during which allegations he and his friends embezzled billions of dollars from state fund 1MDB were key campaign issues.
“This [verdict] is important because remember there are several other cases involving the 1MDB that are still ongoing against him. This particular case involves a former subsidiary of 1MDB and it’s long been regarded as the less complex case in the whole corruption saga,” Al Jazeera’s Looi said.