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Fair trial for Najib would be a powerful reminder

Due legal process for former prime minister would show the importance of transparent checks and balances on power and the limits of public tolerance

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 4:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 4:24am

Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad began ticking important boxes soon after his election as the world’s oldest leader, from a pardon and freedom for political ally and former rival Anwar Ibrahim, to senior appointments that signalled a more inclusive government, to scrapping a controversial consumption tax to investigating the 1Malaysia Development Berhard (1MDB) state fund corruption scandal.

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The latter has resulted in the charging of predecessor and one-time protégé Najib Razak over the transfer of more than US$10 million into his personal accounts from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB set up for investment in energy projects.

As prime minister, Najib was accused of derailing efforts to investigate the alleged disappearance of US$4.5 billion from 1MDB. He now faces three charges of criminal breach of trust and one of corruption, each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.

How this matter is handled will be the biggest challenge, involving the restoration of the rule of law and rebuilding of its institutions that a majority voted for.

Justice and not vengeance must be seen to be done. It is good that the government has acted on the 1MDB scandal within its first 100 days, which symbolically set the tone for new administrations elected on reform agendas.

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Otherwise it would have run the risk of polarising public opinion on Najib in a racially charged political environment.

Now the allegations are before the courts the government should let justice take its course and focus on its wider agenda. It may be seen to have acted quickly, if not as swiftly as some wanted, but not without caution.

Mahathir said the government wanted indisputable evidence so that judgment was not perceived as reflecting public sentiment but based on facts and evidence in a court of law.

There is so far no suggestion to the contrary, despite Najib’s earlier accusation that the government is seeking political vengeance. Indeed, in proclaiming his innocence he has said the charges are his best chance of clearing his name.

A fair trial, whatever the outcome, would be a reminder of the importance of transparent checks and balances on power and the limits of public tolerance.