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A Malaysian court has upheld former leader Najib Razak’s guilty verdict from the first of a series of trials linked to troubled state fund 1MDB, with a judge referring to his actions as a “national embarrassment.”

Najib failed to overturn his 12-year prison sentence after the Court of Appeal affirmed Wednesday that he was guilty of all seven charges in the case, which involved 42 million ringgit ($10 million) of funds belonging to SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB. He immediately applied for a stay of execution that would keep him out of jail while he appeals to Malaysia’s highest court.

Najib’s interest in SRC went beyond his public office, Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil said, reading a 200-page judgement. “We are in full agreement that Najib knew that funds entering his personal accounts are proceeds from unlawful activities,” he said, rejecting the former prime minister’s claims his actions were taking in the national interest.

“This is not something that can be said to have been done in national interest, instead national embarrassment,” Abdul Karim added.

The outcome is a setback for Najib, 68, who has spent the years since his 2018 shock election defeat rehabilitating his image and maintaining his innocence. Still, the appeals process could take years, possibly allowing him to participate in a federal election that must be held by 2023.

“Politically, if he’s locked away, he cannot stand for elections,” said Serina Rahman, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “He may still remain popular. He will milk the sympathy card, and people who have been his fans will likely remain his fans. They will believe that it is a political charge.”

Even so, that the court upheld the verdict indicates that the “law fraternity is not swayed by political maneuvering. Malaysian citizens, and the world, will be hugely relieved that the judges kept to the verdict,” she said.

‘Arab donation story’

Najib attended the hearing via Zoom as he had been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient. He was seen taking notes throughout the judge’s reading of the decision, his face impassive.

The former leader was convicted in July last year of money laundering, corruption and criminal breach of trust. He was fined 210 million ringgit on top of the jail term, and faces more trials on dozens of other 1MDB-related charges.

The money from SRC ended up in Najib’s personal account and was spent by the former leader — who claimed the funds were no-strings-attached donations from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Al-Saud, who passed away in 2015. This “Arab donation story is a concoction. The money is from SRC and it has been fully established,” the judge said.

The Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed Najib’s application to add new evidence, and the hearing was held virtually despite a request by Najib’s legal team for a delay after one of his lawyers tested positive for COVID-19.

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