Malaysia’s Pardons Board said Friday it has reduced ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 12-year jail sentence by half and sharply cut a fine, less than two years into his sentence from a corruption case linked to the theft of billions of dollars from state coffers.
With the sentence commuted, Najib will be freed by Aug. 23, 2028, the board said in a statement. The board also cut Najib’s $44.5 million fine to $11.3 million.
It is unclear if Najib is still eligible for additional time off for good behavior. If so, he could be out as early as August 2026.
Despite his conviction, Najib is still influential in his party, the United Malays National Organization, which is now a member of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government that took power after 2022 general elections.
The Pardons Board didn’t explain why it commuted Najib’s sentence, nor why it waited until Friday to announce it. The board isn’t required to give any grounds for its action, which has prompted an outcry and triggered calls for the government to justify the move.
The board said it considered Najib’s application for a royal pardon at its meeting Monday and decided to reduce his sentence and fine after considering advice and opinions. The meeting was chaired by the country’s then-king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who is from Najib’s home state of Pahang. A new king took office on Wednesday under Malaysia’s unique rotating monarchy system.
The decision is seen to further hurt Anwar’s anti-corruption campaign, just months after prosecutors dropped 47 graft charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is the current UMNO party chief.
Anwar said Najib had gone through the process of law and has the right to appeal for a royal pardon. He said the king has the final say.
“It’s beyond the prime minister or the government. I respect the decision of the then-king. … Of course it is very political, some support, some don’t but they cannot ignore the fact that you must respect the rights of everyone convicted to appeal to the Pardons Board,” Anwar said in an interview with Al-Jazeera.
Najib still has other linked trials which will continue, he added.
Najib, 70, was imprisoned in August 2022 after losing his final appeal in his first of several corruption trials linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of a state fund, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. He became Malaysia’s first former leader to be imprisoned after the shocking defeat of his long ruling coalition in a 2018 general election due to the 1MDB scandal.
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 through layers of bank accounts in the U.S. and other countries and financed Hollywood films and extravagant purchases that included hotels, a luxury yacht, art and jewelry. More than $700 million landed in Najib’s bank accounts.
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. He still faces several other graft trials linked to 1MDB. His wife, Rosmah Mansor, was also sentenced in 2022 to 10 years in prison and a record fine of 970 million ringgit for corruption involving a solar energy project and is out on bail pending an appeal.
Najib has maintained his innocence, alleging he was duped by Malaysian financer Low Taek Jho, thought to be the mastermind of the scandal, who remains at large.
Many Malaysians on Friday demanded to know the justification of the pardons board’s move for such a high-profile graft case in which the government had to spend billions of dollars to service 1MDB’s debts.
“The message to the world … is depressingly and bleakly clear: there are 2 tracks for criminals in Malaysia — 1 for all of us ordinary rakyat (citizens), 1 for the political elite. Very sad day for this country,” lawyer and politician Lim Wei Jiet wrote on social media.
Some analysts said pushback is likely to be contained. Anyone who insults the king can be charged for sedition.
“Anwar’s reputation as a reformer would take a beating. There will be some outrage but the fallout will be limited. The Malay community is quite feudalistic and once they are told it’s the king’s prerogative, they will back off,” said James Chin, professor of Asian studies at Australia’s University of Tasmania.
Najib’s daughter, Nooryana Najwa Najib, posted on Instagram that the family appreciated the board’s gesture but were disappointed that Najib wasn’t given a full pardon and released immediately.