Former Prime Minister in Prison for the World’s ‘Largest Kleptocracy Case’

Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak went straight to prison after the Federal Court affirmed him guilty of embezzling $10 million.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, speaks to supporters outside the Federal Court in Putrajaya, Malaysia Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Photo: AP

Fourteen years since he created a public investment fund that ended up being a cash cow for him and his associates, Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, is now in prison to start serving his 12-year sentence after losing his appeal to overturn his conviction for corruption involving some $10 million in state funds.

Najib was escorted straight to Kajang Prison in the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday evening, after the country’s highest court affirmed the July 2020 verdict by the High Court that found him guilty of diverting funds from SRC International, part of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) public investment fund, into his personal bank accounts. Najib had been out on bail, and in December lost his bid for a reprieve from the Court of Appeal.


“We are unable to conclude that any of the findings of the High Court, as affirmed by the Court of Appeal, were perverse or plainly wrong so as to warrant appellate intervention,” read the decision by the five-member Federal Court panel. “We agree that the defence is so inherently inconsistent and incredible that it does not raise a reasonable doubt on the prosecution case.”

For his part, Najib, currently a member of Parliament, argued that his trial had not been fair.

“It is said that the accused is the most important person in the criminal court, yet I somehow feel mistreated and I feel a fair trial was not accorded to me,” local media quoted Najib as telling the court. “That’s how I really feel. As an appellant at the final stage of the case, it is the worst feeling to have, to realise that the might of the judicial machinery is pinned against me in the most unfair manner.”


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak went from the courthouse straight to the Kajang Prison outside Kuala Lumpur after the verdict on Tuesday. Photo: AP / Vincent Thian

Najib is the first Malaysian prime minister to be sentenced to prison, and for the rest of the world a rare case of a former head of government being punished for embezzling public funds. The Federal Court also affirmed Najib’s nearly $50 million fine.

“Najib Razak, the epitome of political corruption in Malaysia, is finally going to jail. For this to happen during the Merdeka month is absolutely glorious,” said one Twitter user, referring to the country’s independence day to be celebrated on Aug. 31.


“Finally, Malaysia news on front page that I don’t mind seeing,” a Reddit user commented. Another Twitter user commended the five judges for “standing firm” and “upholding the law.”

The scandal has rocked Malaysia and reverberated across the globe as the money trail led investigators to other officials, socialites and celebrities in ostentatious parties, spending sprees and high-rolling turns at casinos. The amount of money syphoned off 1MDB was so massive and the schemes so elaborate that the U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch once called it “the largest kleptocracy case” her office has ever handled.

The U.S. Department of Justice jumped on the case after it received civil forfeiture complaints from 2009 to 2015 involving a total of $4.5 billion belonging to 1MDB, allegedly misappropriated by top officials and their associates. It found that the funds were spent on “extravagant items” including luxury properties in Beverly Hills, New York, and London; a 300-foot superyacht; fine art by Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol; and various business investments including the redevelopment of Manhattan’s Park Lane Hotel. Part of the fund was also used to bankroll the film The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

After nine years in power, Nabjib lost the premiership in 2018 because of the 1MDB scandal, and it was also the first time his party, the United Malays National Organisation, lost the majority. It again became the ruling party in August last year, and observers worried it would wheedle Najib free from his cases.

The verdict could affect UMNO’s chances in a general election next year. Although the party said it respects the court’s decision, it also described Najib’s conviction as “political persecution.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of state funds Najib Razak was found to have embezzled. We regret the error.