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3:59pm 05/02/2024
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After the Pardons Board decision, what now?
By:Mohsin Abdullah

The Pardons Board has made its decision on Najib Razak, and as good law-abiding rakyat, we ought to respect it. 

In fact, we do respect the decision to grant the former prime minister a partial pardon. That’s what it is. 

A pardon, albeit a partial one, means Najib is still a convicted person, i.e. his conviction with regards to the SRC International case still stands.

A full pardon would see him given a clean slate and release from prison immediately.

Lawyer Salim Bashir Bhasbakaran told the Malay Mail that Najib “is deemed to have been granted conditional pardon and both his jail term and fines are reduced.”

A full pardon would see him given a clean slate and release from prison immediately. Now, that would be something else right?

We don’t even have to try to imagine to know the public outcry should that happen. Even this partial or conditional pardon is making many angry, very angry despite respecting the board’s decision.

Respect does not mean we cannot have our own opinions.

I use the term “many” in referring to the “angry folks,” as I do not have the actual numbers. Who does? 

But I am sure there are a lot more than the ones who are not satisfied that the board has not granted Najib a full pardon, like Najib’s family, naturally, and some in Umno. Let’s leave them with their dissatisfaction.

In fact, many of us are also not satisfied with the board’s decision. Hence, the anger. And I, for one, do not know which is making me angrier – the reduced jail term from 12 years to six, or slashing the fines from RM210 million to RM50 million.

To be honest, I have always thought that it was a simple yes-or-no thing as far as Pardons Board goes, meaning it would either grant a full pardon or do not grant it at all.

However, according to lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan as quoted by the Malay Mail, full pardons are rare or are more of an “exception.”

The lawyer said, “It is not unusual for the Pardons Board to reduce sentences. Very often in fact, they reduce sentences. Full pardons are rare but sometimes it has been given.”

One question playing in the minds of us angry folks is: can the board’s decision on Najib be reversed? 

Many want Najib’s original sentence restored. The Malay Mail posed this question general term: Can Pardons Board’s decisions be further revised, amended, reversed or challenged?

Long story short, lawyers say Pardons Board’s decisions cannot be challenged in courts. But some view the Pardons Board as possibly being able to revise its own decision (depending on the situation) while some view it as final.

Another lawyer Datuk Baljit Singh Sidhu said there is also a view that Najib might try and ask the Pardons Board to review its decision, as there is no provision for an appeal process to the board and the law does not stop him from appealing. 

To Sivananthan, “theoretically there is nothing stopping Najib from filing a fresh pardon application and for the Pardons Board, which will be chaired by the new King, to consider.”

That move is something many a Najib critic (instead of “hater”) will not look forward to.

Anyway, I don’t know if this will make you angry folks feel a bit less angry. Without a full pardon, Najib cannot contest in elections until five years after his prison term ends. This is stating the obvious, which many of you folks already know.

Even if Najib’s jail term ends earlier in 2026 instead of 2028 due to “good behavior,” he would still be disqualified from membership of parliament for five years from the date he is released since he did not get a full pardon, according to lawyer Datuk Geethan Ram Vincentas as told to the Malay Mail.

But (there’s always a but) the exception would be, said the lawyer, if the King were to remove Najib’s disqualification which would then enable him to contest in elections.

For that to happen, Najib will have to write to the King to request His Majesty to exercise his power under Article 48(3) of the Federal Constitution to remove the disqualification.

“If you reach a certain level in your career, nothing can happen to you.”

Najib is facing other criminal charges in court. So, will the Pardons Board decision in reducing his jail term and fine affect the other trials? No, according to legal experts.

But here’s the thing.The reduced sentence sends a message that leaders in Southeast Asia act with impunity, said James Chin, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania.

“If you reach a certain level in your career, nothing can happen to you,” Chin told the BBC.

That, I would say, sums up the opinion of many Malaysians, excluding Najib, his family, lawyers, and some in Umno.

This has pooh pooh Anwar Ibrahim’s so-called crusade against corruption. And if I can remind all and sundry, Pakatan Harapan rode on a wave of people’s wrath against the 1MDB scandal and promised action against kleptocrats and what not. For that the rakyat gave them victory in 2018.

Many fought against the scandal and paid a heavy price. I can understand if they now ask what all their struggles and sacrifices were for.

I end this piece with the remarks by Bahri Mohd Zin, former MACC special operations director.

He is shocked at the board’s decision, going on to say the justice system is dying, illustrating the difference in treatment given to the rich and in power compared to the poor.

He issued a long statement which I will not repeat in detail here. Please do a Google search to know his thoughts in it entirety.

Bahri is bitter. He played an important role in the investigation into the SRC International case involving Najib, who was at that time an all-powerful prime minister.

In 2015, the investigation was disrupted when the police raided and arrested several officers in Bahri’s team. 

He and another MACC senior officer Rohaizad Yaakob were later transferred to the Prime Minister’s Department. 

In 2022, he revealed that his team was under immense pressure while investigating the case, receiving threats and bribes to stop the investigation.

And now this. A discount for Najib. 

Yes, he has every right to be bitter. I feel for you, sir.

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)

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