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Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak greets supporters as he walks out during a break in the trial during an appeal against his corruption conviction over the 1MDB financial scandal, at the federal court in Putrajaya, on August 23, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court on Tuesday upheld ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s graft conviction and 12-year jail sentence linked to the looting of the 1MDB state fund.

Najib’s loss in his final appeal means he will have to begin serving his sentence immediately, becoming the first former prime minister to be jailed.

The five-member Federal Court panel said it unanimously found the high court judge was right in his judgment and that Najib’s appeal was “devoid of any merits.’’ The court affirmed Najib’s conviction and sentence.

1MDB was a development fund that Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty in 2020 of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

Najib, 69, has maintained he is innocent and has been out on bail pending his appeals. Just before the court delivered its verdict, he stood up in the dock to make a statement protesting the top court’s refusal last week to delay the appeal to let his newly appointed lawyers prepare for the case.

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Supporters of Najib react outside the court during his appeal. Image Credit: AFP
What’s 1MDB scandal?
The following are details of the scandal and cases brought against him:
WHAT IS 1MDB?: 1MDB was a sovereign fund set up in 2009 with the help of Malaysian financier Jho Low to promote economic development.
Najib, who was prime minister from 2009 to 2018, co-founded 1MDB and chaired its advisory board until 2016.
HOW DID BILLIONS GO MISSING?: 1MDB raised billions of dollars in bonds for use in investment projects and joint ventures between 2009 and 2013.
Conducting its largest ever kleptocracy investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) said $4.5 billion was diverted to offshore bank accounts and shell companies, many linked to Low. Malaysian authorities say billions more remain unaccounted for.
The siphoned funds were used to buy luxury assets and real estate for Low and his associates, including a private jet, a superyacht, hotels, jewelry, and to finance the 2013 Hollywood film “The Wolf of Wall Street”, U.S. lawsuits have said.
Low, a fugitive, has been charged in Malaysia and the United States over his central role in the case. He denies wrongdoing.
His whereabouts are unknown. Malaysia has said he is in China, but Beijing denies it.
Najib was not named by the DoJ, but was alluded to in the investigation as “Malaysian Official 1”, according to Malaysian and US sources.
WHAT ARE THE CASES AGAINST NAJIB?: Malaysian authorities say Najib illegally received more than $1 billion traceable to 1MDB.
A person described in US lawsuits as “Malaysian Official 1” allegedly received more than $1 billion in 1MDB funds, some of which was used to buy jewelry for the person’s wife.
The lawsuits said the person received $681 million shortly before Malaysia’s 2013 election, when the Barisan Nasional coalition led by Najib’s United Malays National Organisation held onto power while losing the popular vote.
Najib, voted out in a 2018 election amid public anger over the scandal, is facing 42 criminal charges over losses at 1MDB and other state entities. If convicted, he could face decades in prison as well as hefty fines.
In July 2020, in the first of five trials, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison and a 210 million ringgit ($46.94 million) fine after being found guilty of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power, and money laundering for illegally receiving about $10 million from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.
The verdict was upheld by an appellate court last year, and on Tuesday the Federal Court ruled against Najib’s final appeal.
Other trials he faces involve funds at 1MDB and other government bodies, as well as allegations of audit tampering. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
WHAT ARE THE STATUS OF THESE CASES?: Despite the scandal, Najib has retained some of his former popularity and remains influential within UMNO, which is now back in power.
He remains on trial in the four other cases.
Najib has said he was misled by Low and other 1MDB officials into believing the funds banked into his accounts were donated by the Saudi royal family.
HOW ARE AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATING 1MDB?: At least six countries, including Singapore and Switzerland, have launched financial mismanagement and criminal investigations into 1MDB dealings, in a global probe that has implicated financial institutions and high-ranking officials worldwide.
In 2020, US firm Goldman Sachs agreed to pay more than $5 billion, including a record $2.9 billion in the United States, to settle investigations into its role in underwriting $6.5 billion in bond sales for 1MDB.
In April, former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng, a Malaysian, was convicted by a U.S. court of conspiring to violate an anti-corruption law and money laundering. He is the first, and likely only, person to face trial in the United States over the scheme.

Najib said he felt he was “unfairly treated” and that his case has been rushed through. He pointed out that a leaked verdict by the Federal Court had been posted on a website and said if this was true, it would be the a “judicial misconduct of the highest order.”

But Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat said the appeal hearings had ended because Najib’s lawyers refused to make any new arguments to protest not being given more time to prepare. She then read out the court’s verdict.

Najib appeared in shock. He was immediately surrounded by his family and supporters.

The verdict came after a series of attempts by Najib to prolong the case.

Earlier Tuesday, he sought to remove Maimun from the case, citing possible bias because her husband had made a negative Facebook posting about Najib’s leadership shortly after his ouster in 2018 general elections. But the judges dismissed Najib’s application.

Maimun, Malaysia’s first female chief justice who was appointed in 2019, has come under attack on social media from Najib’s supporters. Police arrested a man over the weekend in connection with death threats made against Maimun. Hundreds of Najib’s supporters gathered outside the court in a show of support.

The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries and caused the downfall of Najib’s government in 2018 elections. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to 1MDB, and his wife is also on trial on corruption charges.

Still, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections of lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.