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Top Malaysian court orders ex-PM Najib to begin final appeal

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's top court ordered former Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday to begin his final appeal in two days after rejecting his request that it throw out his graft conviction and 12-year sentence over alleged judicial bias.

Najib has sought to introduce new evidence that would spark a retrial on grounds that the high court judge who convicted him may be biased due to his previous job at a bank that provided financial services to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund.

1MDB was a development fund Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

The five-member Federal Court bench unanimously dismissed Najib's request, agreeing with prosecutors that the background of then-High Court Judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali was public knowledge. Nazlan is now a judge in the Court of Appeals.

Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat said the court couldn't find any link between Nazlan's previous role at the bank and the charges against Najib that could lead to a real danger of bias. She also said some of the proposed additional evidence the defense is seeking was already available during trial and in any case is irrelevant to the charges.

“We are not convinced that Justice Nazlan made his findings based on anything other than the evidence on record," she said. “To our mind, there is no miscarriage of justice" since Najib can include the allegation in his final appeal to the top court, she added.

Najib said after the hearing that he was “shocked and bitterly disappointed.”

“I believe the additional evidence will clearly indicate that Justice Nazlan was heavily conflicted. He was very much aware of the 1MDB and SRC transactions and therefore had deep personal knowledge of these two entities,” Najib told reporters. “I hope that in the final appeal, we will be able to show the truth of the matter.”

Najib, 69, would become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be imprisoned if his appeal fails. He has maintained he is innocent and has been out on bail pending his appeals.

In another blow to Najib, the Federal Court ordered the hearing to start Thursday. Najib's new defense team requested more time to prepare, but the court refused, saying it should have been ready to appear at the agreed date when it took on the case. The court is scheduled to hear his final appeal until Aug. 26.

The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries and caused the downfall of Najib’s government in 2018 elections. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to 1MDB, and his wife is also on trial on corruption charges.

Despite his graft conviction, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections of lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.

Najib is still a lawmaker pending his appeal but he cannot run if an early general election is called. National polls are not due until the second half of 2023, but there have been strong calls from UMNO leaders for early elections.