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Will applying for pardons become a new trend in Malaysia, lawyer asks

Rafique Rashid sounds a note of caution about Umno's efforts to obtain a royal pardon for jailed former leader Najib Razak.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
Former prime minister Najib Razak.
Former prime minister Najib Razak.

A lawyer has sounded a note of caution about Umno's pardon bid for jailed former leader Najib Razak, calling it a critical situation for the country's legal system. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Rafique Rashid said it was all too easy to place such applications in the context of strengthening the government of the day. 

He also warned against manipulating political issues and personalities to the point of ignoring the law and the judicial system. 

"It's as though committing a crime is acceptable as long as you are a known politician," he said. 

"And this, despite crimes such as embezzlement and the abuse of power and taxpayers' money." 

Rafique's comments come amid talk that the Pardons Board is discussing a pardon for Najib, who is currently serving a 12-year jail term at Kajang Prison. 

The effort for a pardon, spearheaded by Najib's party Umno, came after the Federal Court rejected the former prime minister's final appeal for a review of his conviction and sentence in the SRC International case. 

Rafique said it was possible that such attempts would become a norm for politicians convicted of crimes. 

"Will we eventually reach that point?" he added. 

Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla meanwhile said that the issue could raise concerns over whether a royal pardon under the absolute jurisdiction of the Agong involved the pardon of punishment as well as of conviction. 

He said the question was closely linked to the pardon efforts for Najib, as the former leader could ask for a pardon for both. 

In the case of Anwar Ibrahim, who was pardoned by the king in 2018 after Pakatan Harapan's victory at the 14th general election, he said the PKR president said that he had been pardoned of his sentence as well as his conviction. 

"It's as if the criminal record no longer existed," he said. 

He said there was no question of issuing a pardon for punishment as this was at the discretion of the Agong. 

"But can the Agong cancel convictions as well, which are the discovery of wrongdoing by the courts?

"That was the issue that arose when Anwar was pardoned," he said. 

In Anwar's document, he said, there was no mention of him being pardoned of his conviction. But if Najib's document stated the cancellation of his conviction, he added, this might be challenged again. 

"Then, the court will have to make a decision because for Anwar's case, there was no court decision. The court found no remission of conviction. 

"This is an interesting question because when the constitution and laws are played with, it will come back to haunt those who played with them." 

Haniff previously represented his client Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz in challenging the validity of the pardon given to Anwar in 2018. 

In January, though, a three-man panel led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat unanimously rejected the application for leave to appeal, saying the matter had become academic. 

Tengku Maimun said that the court found no grounds to suggest that any misrepresentation had been made in the advice offered to the king by the Pardons Board.