Najib’s legal proceeding “is a test for the new government to see how they are carrying out the rule of law,” said Bridget Welsh, a longtime watcher of Malaysian politics and associate professor of political science at John Cabot University. “From the perspective of the investment community, this has to be seen as a positive sign because it shows mettle and a willingness to address underlying problems.”
The troubles of 1MDB have not only dented Kuala Lumpur’s reputation with foreign investors, they’ve worsened government coffers — national debt was found to be almost 60 percent higher than previous estimates due to previously hidden liabilities related to 1MDB.
Najib, who cleared himself of wrongdoing during his time in office, released a pre-recorded video message following his arrest saying that not every accusation against him was true. That raises the possibility of a plea bargain, with the defense team potentially seeking a massive fine in exchange for zero or minimal prison time, said Ei Sun Oh, principal advisor at Kuala Lumpur-based Pacific Research Center.
But given mounting public pressure for the 64 year-old’s imprisonment, the courts may not agree to any deal.
“There is a huge clamor for his arrest, subsequent prosecution and hopefully conviction … that [was] one of the impetus that propelled the current government into power,” explained Oh.