KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Supporters of Malaysian ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak rallied Wednesday outside the national palace to seek royal pardon just a day after he began a 12-year jail term, while opponents launched an online petition urging the monarch not to.
Najib, 69, was jailed Tuesday after losing the final appeal in a graft case linked to the massive looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund. His incarceration comes four years after his election ouster over the scandal and was celebrated by many citizens as justice served.
But Najib's supporters, echoing his words before he was whisked off to prison, say he wasn't fairly treated because the top court threw out his bid for a retrial on allegations of judicial bias, and repeatedly refused to delay the hearing to give his lawyers time to prepare.
Some 300 of Najib's supporters, mostly dressed in black, rallied briefly outside the national palace Wednesday under police watch. Several representatives later handed a memorandum seeking pardon for Najib to the palace.
Parliament House Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun reportedly said Wednesday that Najib must apply for a royal pardon within 14 days or lose his seat in Parliament. There was no word from Najib’s camp if he will seek a royal pardon.
Group representative Syed Mohammad Imran Syed Abdul Aziz also urged Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is from Najib's United Malays National Organization, to push for a pardon.
Syed Mohamad said he was told by a palace official that King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah was concerned about the case as the monarch hails from Najib’s home state of Pahang and knows the politician well.
“If there is evidence of conflict of interest, then Najib should be freed immediately," Syed said.
Najib’s supporters were countered by an online petition launched Wednesday by electoral watchdog Bersih urging the king to let Najib serve his sentence as he has been given due process of a fair trial. More than 30,000 people have signed the petition so far, saying Najib “brought shame” to the country and should be an example to any leaders who think they can abuse their power.
Najib sought a retrial last week alleging the high court judge who convicted him in 2020 may have a conflict of interest due to his previous role at a bank that provided financial services to 1MDB but the top court rejected the request .
The Federal Court upheld Najib’s conviction and sentence, saying the appeal was without merit as the defense was “inherently inconsistent and incredible" and ordered him to begin his sentence immediately. Najib has been freed on bail pending his appeals before this.
1MDB was a development fund that Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege more than $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty in 2020 of seven charges of corruption for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
A scion of one of Malaysia's most prominent political families, Najib's prison term cemented his stunning fall from grace . But his woes are far from over as he faces another four graft trials linked to the 1MDB debacle that also sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries.
Najib will be brought to court in handcuffs Thursday for the hearing of an ongoing trial on four charges of using his position to obtain 2.3 billion ringgit ($513 million) from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount.
His incarceration came despite the rebound of his UMNO party, which returned to power after defections caused the collapse of the reformist government that won 2018 general elections. He cannot run in general elections due in September 2023, unless he gets a royal pardon.
UMNO party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, formerly Najib's deputy and himself on trial for graft, vowed in a Facebook post Wednesday that the party will stand behind the former prime minister and “ensure he gets real justice and without any political intimidation."
UMNO has been split after the 2018 polls and Prime Minister Ismail, who is from an opposing camp, told local media before the verdict that he would not interfere in the court process.