Najib Razak, the most high-profile individual to have been convicted in one of the biggest financial scandals in recent times, is said to be well on his way to freedom, more than a year after beginning his 12-year jail sentence in August 2022, MalaysiaNow has learnt from conversations with several people involved in discussions on the fate of the former prime minister.
It is believed that for several months now, intense discussions have been underway involving Najib's family members as well as senior Umno leaders aligned with him, as part of conditions for the party's collaboration with Pakatan Harapan (PH) which led to Anwar Ibrahim's appointment as prime minister following the hung parliament last year.
Najib became the first former prime minister to be sent to jail after losing his final appeal last August against his conviction and 12-year imprisonment for the misappropriation of RM42 million from SRC International, one of many cases linked to the 1MDB scandal spread out in several countries.
A source in Umno who spilled critical details of recent discussions to MalaysiaNow confirmed that the former leader's release was "next in the pipeline", with the aftermath of the abrupt halt to Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's trial "being carefully monitored".
At least two Umno confidants linked to Najib loyalists have expressed confidence of "good news ahead".
"The DNAA for Zahid is a rehearsal on what to expect," said the Umno man, referring to the discharge not amounting to acquittal granted to the party chief on Sept 4.
Another individual privy to the discussions said freeing Najib was "in fact at the top of the agenda during the negotiations between PH and Umno leaders at the Seri Pacific (hotel)", referring to the meetings that resulted in cooperation between the two sides in the aftermath of the general election last year.
"Anwar himself stated that he had once received support from Najib on condition that his charges would be dropped. It is very clear now that Najib is fully supportive of the current pact that his party has reached with Anwar," the source added.
In June last year, Anwar admitted that Zahid and Najib had backed him for the top office, but said he could not take their support into account as they had wanted their charges to be dropped.
"I was not ready to do this. So, even though I already had enough numbers and my road to becoming prime minister was clear, I was not ready to compromise the independence of our judiciary," Anwar had said.
Anwar and PH leaders nonetheless sought Zahid's support again in the aftermath of the general election.
"This time, it would have been easier for Zahid to lay down conditions, seeing that it was perhaps the only possible chance for PH, and Anwar, to achieve his lifelong ambition," the source said.
Pardon process 'too complicated'
Umno has been campaigning for a royal pardon for Najib, similar to the pardon given to Anwar over his sodomy conviction in 2018.
But the same Umno source told MalaysiaNow that the pardon process was fraught with complications, and could be disastrous for Anwar who is struggling to navigate his fragile coalition government.
"We see a better chance for Najib to be freed through the courts," he said, but refused to provide details.
Najib, for his part, has repeatedly said he would prefer to clear his name through the judicial process and not a royal pardon.
Meanwhile, a PKR leader in Selangor told MalaysiaNow that the bigger concern was how to manage the public backlash over Zahid's DNAA.
"Never mind the international media's reaction that would further erode Anwar's credibility, there's a bigger worry about the backlash at home," he said.
He said one measure was the propaganda operatives being prepared for a major campaign to "desensitise supporters" into accepting the eventual release of Najib.
"The first phase of the campaign came in the form of the narrative by PH leaders that Zahid's DNAA was no fault of the government, and that it was based on a leaked document," he said, referring to a purported memorandum by prosecutors in 2018 to then attorney-general Tommy Thomas.
The document, the authenticity of which has yet to be proven, was used by Zahid's supporters to justify the DNAA request.
But the PKR man said Najib's release would be more problematic due to the international publicity generated by the 1MDB scandal.
"Now, how to manage the political aftermath of releasing the person whose very case symbolised the blight on Malaysia's international image?" he asked.
"For the past 10 months, we have managed to desensitise some supporters with the sight of Zahid mingling with DAP leaders. This is important for setting the mood for whatever bigger things are unveiled in the coming days and weeks," he added.