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Court rejects retrial for Malaysia’s Najib and grants final appeal hearing

#Court #rejects #retrial #Malaysias #Najib #grants #final #appeal #hearing

Malaysia’s highest court on Tuesday said it would hear former leader Najib Razak’s latest attempt to have his 12-year prison sentence overturned on corruption charges, with an acquittal potentially paving the way for his return to power.

The appeal is the last high-stakes court game Najib faces – but if he doesn’t succeed, he’ll face his sentence after years of litigation.

The federal court’s decision to proceed with an appeal, which will begin on Thursday, came after it rejected the former prime minister’s request for a retrial.

Najib, 69, and his ruling party were summarily ousted from office in the 2018 election after they were accused of being implicated in a multi-billion dollar scandal at sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The former prime minister and his cronies have been accused of stealing billions of dollars from the country’s investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to expensive art.

After a lengthy High Court trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust for transferring 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB entity into his bank account.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in July 2020, and an appeals court dismissed his appeal last December, prompting him to file a final lawsuit in federal court, where every decision is final.

Najib had hoped the court would authorize a full retrial, but that request was unanimously rejected by a panel of five judges on Tuesday.

“In our opinion, there is no miscarriage of justice,” Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said, adding Najib “failed to cross the high threshold” of new evidence required for a retrial.

– ‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’ –

Najib’s attorney requested that the court be adjourned three to four months before the hearing began, but the panel, after some deliberation, refused.

“Justice cannot be unduly delayed. Justice deferred is justice denied to others,” she added.

The judges have scheduled the appeal hearing for eight days from Thursday.

If the conviction is upheld, Najib will serve his sentence immediately, lawyers said.

However, an acquittal could see him fighting for his former post as he remains popular in Malaysia despite the major 1MDB scandal that plagued his government.

A charismatic and persuasive speaker, Najib has about 4.6 million Facebook followers and was recently spotted skinning with leaders and supporters of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party.

The UNMO had been the main governing party since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, until its dramatic defeat in 2018 in the wake of the 1MDB scandal

“I will continue to do my best on behalf of my party to visit and listen to people and help the government at the time to explain problems,” Najib told AFP before his appeal.

“[But]right now, my focus is just clearing my name in court.”

Najib still faces another 35 corruption allegations linked to 1MDB, court filings show.

The collapse of the coalition that succeeded him — led by former leader Mahathir Mohamad — the ensuing internal fighting and the failure of two subsequent governments to deliver on promised reforms have all contributed to Najib’s enduring popularity, analysts say.

Malaysians are also facing a higher cost of living amid rising food prices and rising interest rates.

“Voters seem to have forgotten or forgiven Najib for the 1MDB scandal,” said James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania in Australia.

“If he is acquitted or receives a royal pardon, he is well on his way to becoming a prime ministerial candidate,” Chin told AFP.

Najib has maintained his innocence.

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