Prison will be a tough contrast to former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s seven-star hotel lifestyle as Malaysia begins to find “closure” from the scandal that had rocked the nation for years, said Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Malaysia’s highest court upheld his 12-year jail sentence, which began at Kajang Prison, south of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, on Tuesday.
“I think this is a good beginning. And it does reform and mature Malaysia as a vibrant democracy with strong institutions,” Anwar told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.
“Political leaders, political elites who continue to rort without impunity, they think that they’re invincible and above the law, [but] now, the message is very clear. Credit must be given to the “rakyat” [the people], who decided, and therefore we have to continue.”
He urged Malaysians to vote for “incorruptible”leaders when they next go to the polls — Malaysia must call an election by September 2023 — in order to make sure their country is safe from further corruption.
Najib was at the center of the scandal — which has been dubbed the world’s largest kleptocracy case — alongside alleged fraud mastermind Malaysian businessman Jho Low and Goldman Sachs bankers.
Some $700 million was allegedly transferred to Najib’s accounts, and losses from 1MDB was said to exceed $4 billion. Najib continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Anwar himself was at the center of various political tussles. He was the country’s deputy prime minister in the 1990s and was controversially deposed by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad before being jailed for sodomy and corruption.
His conviction was overturned, and he was released in 2004. He was jailed again for sodomy in 2014 before receiving a royal pardon in 2018 and released.
Anwar said Najib would have better conditions in jail than he himself did in the 1990s when he was denied books or family visits, but jail would be tough for the former prime minister, the first in the country to be imprisoned.
“From what I understand from my old colleagues, prison officers, he will be given somewhat better treatment, he will be accorded some facilities,” he told CNBC.
“But still, prison is not a bed of roses, it is tough, particularly comparing to his present lifestyle of a seven-star hotel, you will have to experience something difficult and tough.”
Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor were accused of living a lavish lifestyle at the expense of 1MDB. Court hearings revealed they spent thousands of dollars on expensive hotels and jewelry.
Any attempts by Najib to challenge his sentence through further reviews will be difficult, Anwar said, referring to his own failed attempts previously.
Najib can also try for a pardon from Malaysia’s king, but given the financial enormity of the 1MDB scandal, it may be hard road, Anwar added.
It is important that Malaysian authorities continue to pursue justice in this scandal, including recouping the funds stolen from the public purse, Anwar said, when asked if others in the case, such as businessman Low and Najib’s wife Rosmah, should also face justice.
In 2018, Malaysian police raided Najib and Rosmah’s homes as part of the 1MDB investigation and recovered 284 boxes containing luxury handbags and 72 bags filled with jewelry, cash, watches and other valuables.
Anwar also said it’s unlikely Najib would be able to garner support or influence the outcome of the next election behind bars.
So far, those who supported him — as seen in court on Monday — during his court appearance were mainly from his own constituencies, Anwar said.