Former PM Najib Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor is convicted on corruption charges
by Steve Suwannarat

Najib was sent to jail last week after receiving a 12-year sentence for embezzling huge sums from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund. His wife could get 10 years if her conviction is upheld on appeal. In Malaysia, public opinion is wondering whether this is a real crackdown on long-tolerated malfeasance or a case of political revenge against a very popular but controversial couple.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – After her husband, former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was jailed last week, his wife, the shrewd and influential Rosmah Mansor, was also convicted yesterday on corruption charges.

Free on bail pending two appeals, the 70-year-old Rosmah could end up in prison and be forced to pay US$ 216 million in fines following a protracted and contested trial. She could get 10 years in prison.

Najib, who headed the Malaysian government from 2009 to 2018, was convicted of embezzling huge sums (US$ 700 million) from the country’s the sovereign wealth 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund by placing them into his own bank accounts.

Najib, who has always denied the charges, was a protégé of Mahathir Muhammad, a former long-serving prime minister, who remains a central figure in the country's political framework at the age of 97.

Rosmah Mansor instead asked for bribes from a company that had turned to her to get a multimillion-dollar public contract.

Public opinion in Malaysia and the country’s media are wondering whether the court decisions represent a shift from a sometimes-brazen tolerance of corruption and malfeasance, or are part a game of political revenge against a very popular but controversial couple.

The two considered themselves untouchable and did little to hide their influence and interests, while claiming to act for  the "good" of the country. Suggestively, their convictions almost coincided with Malaysia’s Independence Day, 31 August, which marked the end of British rule.

Since 1957, Malaysia has grown, becoming an international reliable partner, as well as one of the biggest economies in South-east Asia and the entire continent. However, in view of its economic growth and international status as a stable country, the heightened  political tensions of the past few years have become more noticeable.

The power of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has governed the country since independence, except for a brief period, has eroded. Since it took power, it has pursued policies that promoted the country’s Muslim community, boosting their numbers as well (at present 62 per cent of Malaysia’s 30 million people are Muslim).

This has created or accentuated the divide between the majority and ethnic and religious minorities, which has taken on political overtones, at the expense of UMNO and its Barisan Nasional coalition.

The main post-independence leaders, including Najib Razak, have been able to keep together the various pieces of the Malaysian mosaic, balancing the different powers (including those of the sovereigns of the various federated states vis-à-vis both the legislative and executive branches of government).

However, in Najib’s case, party and personal interests and his wife's lavish and ostentatious lifestyle quickly turned Malaysians’ attitude towards them from admiration to suspicion and, eventually, hostility.

Nevertheless, some expect the former prime minister to receive a royal pardon and undergo some form of rehabilitation.