From Louis Vuitton to prison: the meteoric fall of Malaysia’s Najib Razak

By Paloma Almoguera

Singapore, Sep 18 (EFE).- For years, former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and his wife lived a high-flying life on funds embezzled from a state development fund, but a rapid change in fortunes has seen the leader languish in prison and bet on a royal pardon as the last hope for returning to politics. 

Najib, who ruled Malaysia between 2009-2018, has been in public life for decades, having followed in the footsteps of his father – Malaysia’s second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussain — after he died in 1976. 

However, to the surprise of many analysts, even Najib’s diplomatic acumen and his powerful contacts could not help him get out of jail, as on Aug. 23 Malaysia’s top court upheld the leader’s 12-year prison term on corruption charges. 

The 69-year-old, who has reiterated his innocence, was found guilty of misappropriating 42 million ringgit (around $9.42 million) from the state-owned 1Malaysua Development Berhad, a fund aimed at developing the country, and became the first Malaysian former PM to be imprisoned. 

Used to hobnobbing with the who’s who of the world – including a much photographed friendship with former United States’ president Donald Trump – Najib has had to give up a life of luxury for a basic prison cell, a fate which may also befall on his wife Rosmah Mansor, who has appealed a 10-year prison term handed to her earlier this month. 

Supporters of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak, gesture as they express their support for him, at the Federal Court in Putrajaya, Malaysia, 23 August 2022. EFE-EPA FILE/AHMAD LUQMAN ISMAIL

The couple lived a life of extreme opulence until 2015, when a newspaper investigation exposed the multi-million dollar diversion from the state fund to the private accounts of Najib, the fund’s founder. 

In 2018, soon after his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad defeated Najib in the elections, police raided Najib and Rosmah’s house and seized an astonishing booty of luxury goods. 

These included up to 300 boxes with Hermes or Louis Voitton bags, dozens of suitcases stuffed with cash in different currencies, 423 luxury watches, 14 tiaras and other valuables.

According to police investigations into a scandal which had ramifications for even Hollywood and the Wall Street, Najib and his associates allegedly diverted $4.5 billion from the 1MDB, out of which $681 million went into the ex-president’s accounts. 

The case, leaked by former Swiss-Spanish banker Xavier Justo, is full of lurid details such as mysterious killings of possible witnesses, links with Saudi Arabia and extravagant gifts to actors Leonardoi DiCaprio or model Miranda Kerr with the fund’s money.

Certain media outlets have dubbed the scandal the “the coup of the century.”

However, Najib has not given up hopes of an eventual redemption, and earlier this month sought a royal pardon. 

Cassey Lee, the Malaysia expert at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told EFE that the possibility of the leader being pardoned may depend on the outcome of the next Malaysian elections. 

The Malaysian monarchy has largely sought to stay on the sidelines of national politics, although the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has gained influence in recent years after the resignation of Mahathir, who quit in favor of Ismail Sabri, a leader of Najib’s party UMNO. 

Analysts have said that a victory for UMNO and Sabri in the national elections – set to be held before September 2023 – could turn the tide for Najib, as he continues to have strong allies in the party.

However, after the pardon was sought, the king insisted that no special privilege or exception would be granted “to anyone who has committed an infraction (of justice). EFE

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