KUALA LUMPUR, September 19 (Reuters) – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has not ruled out running for parliament in the next two years, he told Reuters in an interview, despite a corruption conviction that would prevent him from showing up.
Najib’s corrupt party, the United National Malay Organization (UMNO), landed the post of prime minister last month after being ousted from power three years ago following a multibillion-dollar scandal. Opponents had expressed fears that party leaders facing criminal charges could obtain leniency once in charge.
Najib, who was prime minister for nine years until 2018, was convicted of corruption last year and sentenced to 12 years in prison for one of several cases of embezzling money from the 1MDB state fund , now disappeared. He denied any wrongdoing and appealed the verdict, while calling for an investigation into his prosecution which he said was politically motivated.
He is still a member of parliament but the constitution forbids him to run for office unless he obtains a pardon or reprieve from the country’s monarch.
Speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Najib challenged his disqualification, saying: “This is subject to interpretation.”
“It depends on the interpretation in terms of the law, the constitution and everything that happens in court proceedings,” Najib said.
When asked if he would run in the next elections scheduled by 2023, he replied: âAny politician who wants to play a role would want a seat in parliament.
However, he declined to say how he could get around constitutional barriers.
UMNO, which held power for more than 60 years until outrage over the 1MDB scandal and the opulence displayed by Najib’s family helped to dislodge him, is eager to regain the trust of the public under the nascent government of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who must also fight infighting.
Najib ran a public relations campaign to shed his elite image and present himself as a man of the people. He remains a popular figure on social media, where his criticism of past governments has won him praise.
Najib said in the interview that he discussed with Ismail Sabri a possible role for him in government. The media said he could be appointed economic adviser.
The former prime minister did not say if he would take a job, saying his priority was to clear his name.
He also said that UMNO’s return to power guaranteed “temporary political stability” and that he would not call early elections, as he had done with Ismail Sabri’s predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin. Muhyiddin’s government collapsed when Najib and some UMNO lawmakers withdrew their support.
Malaysia has experienced political instability since the 2018 elections, with two coalitions collapsing due to infighting.
A future candidacy of Najib would come up against a constitutional provision that anyone sentenced to a prison term of more than one year or a fine of more than 2,000 ringgit ($ 480) is disqualified from standing in parliamentary elections. .
Constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew has said that Najib can only run if he is successful in his appeal, receives a royal pardon, or if the king uses his discretion to remove the disqualification despite the conviction remaining in place.
Malaysian and US authorities claim more than $ 4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB, some of which went to Najib’s bank accounts. The US Department of Justice called the scandal “kleptocracy at its worst.”
Najib, who faces more than 40 counts of abuse of power, money laundering and other offenses mainly related to 1MDB, said he could prove his innocence even as many entities and individuals around the world have admitted their guilt or paid heavy fines and settlements following the scandal. .
Malaysian prosecutors have said that Najib, who co-founded 1MDB in 2009, played a central role.
Since its electoral defeat, the United States has returned to Malaysia more than $ 1 billion in funds recovered from assets purchased with stolen 1MDB money.
Najib said the charges against him were politically motivated and he is pushing for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on former attorney general Tommy Thomas of the post-UMNO government, which carried the cases against him for the first time in 2018.
“I insisted on this. The RCI must establish that this will be a fair and just trial for everyone, not just for me,” he said.
Thomas did not respond to an email request for comment.
Najib said he discussed the proposal with Ismail Sabri, who so far has not accepted it, and that he also discussed it with Muhyiddin, who rejected it.
Spokesmen for Ismail Sabri and Muhyiddin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
($ 1 = 4.1700 ringgits)
Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Edmund Klamann
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