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Analysis: Syed Saddiq’s graft punishment has triggered allegations of double standards. Here’s what Malaysia’s law says

Caning, seven years’ jail and a fine. Some argue the former Malaysian minister’s sentence is harsh and disproportionate, but observers say it is aimed to deter future offenders and that allegations of double standards and political motives are unlikely to hurt PM Anwar Ibrahim politically.


Analysis: Syed Saddiq’s graft punishment has triggered allegations of double standards. Here’s what Malaysia’s law says

File photo of Muar Member of Parliament Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman. (Photo: Facebook/Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman)

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JOHOR BAHRU: Although seen by some as harsh, Malaysian lawmaker Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s sentence for corruption on Thursday (Nov 9) is within legal provisions and may be intended to deter future offenders, a legal expert told CNA. 

Even as some members of the public have questioned how proportionate the sentence is – compared to the outcomes of recent corruption cases involving former prime minister Najib Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – observers do not expect any political damage for current premier Anwar Ibrahim.

On Thursday, High Court Judge Azhar Abdul Hamid found Syed Saddiq guilty of four charges of criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of property and money laundering. He was sentenced to seven years’ jail, two strokes of the cane and fined RM10 million (US$2.1 million).

In handing down the sentence, Justice Azhar reportedly said he had considered all arguments by the defence and the prosecution, as well as public interest. 

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has allowed Syed Saddiq a stay of the execution of his sentence pending an appeal.

Prosecutors for the case told CNA the written judgement document has not been released by the High Court. 

Syed Saddiq was first charged with criminal breach of trust involving RM1 million from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), his former party, in July 2021. 

The former youth and sports minister was found guilty of withdrawing the funds through a cheque on Mar 6, 2020 without the approval of Bersatu's supreme council. 

He was also charged with misusing RM120,000 of donations for the 14th General Election campaign, which was raised via a bank account belonging to Armada Bumi Bersatu Enterprise. This offence was said to have been committed between Apr 8, 2018 and Apr 21, 2018. 

The Muar Member of Parliament, who co-founded the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) party in September 2020, was also found guilty of two counts of money laundering. He engaged in two transactions of RM50,000 each, with the money believed to be proceeds from unlawful activities. 

His sentence has ignited fiery responses on social media, with netizens comparing his punishment with that of other individuals such as Najib and Mr Ahmad Zahid, who were recently charged.

Najib is serving a 12-year jail sentence for corruption on seven charges involving funds from a former unit of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), SRC International. He was also fined RM210 million for the offences. 

The charges against Najib, who was prime minister from 2009 to 2018, involved the transfer of RM42 million from SRC International into his personal bank accounts in 2014 and 2015.

Meanwhile, Mr Ahmad Zahid was facing 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, bribery and money laundering involving tens of millions of ringgit belonging to charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi (YAB) before he was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) in September.


Law lecturer Mohamad Hafiz Hassan of Malaysia’s Multimedia University told CNA the sentence meted out to Syed Saddiq is within what the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Malaysia Penal Code provide.

Section 406 of the penal code states that whoever commits criminal breach of trust could be jailed for up to 10 years, whipped and fined. 

Mr Hafiz added that under section 298 of the CPC, caning is mandatory for criminal breach of trust but those exempted include women, as well as males aged 50 years and above. Syed Saddiq is 30.

“Syed Saddiq does not fall into any of the above exceptions and under (the law) he must be punished with whipping – at least one stroke. It’s the minimum. Arguably, one cannot say that the punishment (two strokes of the cane) is excessive,” he added. 

The age provision also explains why Najib was not sentenced to caning for his CBT charges.

File photo of Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman speaking with former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. (Photo: Facebook/Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman)

On speculation that Syed Saddiq’s overall sentence is disproportionate compared with the likes of Najib, Mr Hafiz said the courts are guided by considerations such as mitigating factors, aggravating factors and, most importantly, public interest. 

He said this sentence could serve the public interest by deterring others from committing similar offences.

“Such a sentence may also deter the particular criminal from committing a crime again, or induce him to turn from a criminal to (living) an honest life. The court has the right and the duty to decide whether to be lenient or severe,” said Mr Hafiz. 

“No two sentences can be the same as the accused persons are not the same. The mitigating and aggravating factors are also not the same,” he added. 

Speaking to reporters after Thursday’s verdict, the case’s lead prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the prosecution had sought a “strong deterrent sentence” to prevent such incidents from recurring. 

"In this case, politicians are entrusted but have betrayed that trust. Regardless of whether someone is (a) 30-year-old or 50-year-old, if entrusted, do not betray it,” he reportedly said. 

Syed Saddiq has said he will appeal the court’s decision. This means the case will be brought before the Court of Appeal and if his appeal is dismissed there, his final appeal will be at the Federal Court, said Mr Hafiz.

If the final appeal fails, he will be disqualified as an MP. 


His sentence has, however, stirred up allegations of double standards and political motives. 

On social media platform X, netizen Mishel Farreyna wrote that Syed Saddiq’s sentence was unexpected “especially considering there are larger figures moving about without consequences”.

Local media outlet Malaysiakini published a comment from a reader titled, “Hard to view Syed Saddiq's sentence as proportionate”. 

The reader who goes by the moniker My2cen wrote: “It’s hard to view his sentencing as commensurate with his crime, especially when former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak only received 12 years for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering charges.

“Not to mention there was a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) for the man who brought 26 MPs from UMNO to form the federal government.” 

My2cen was referring to how Mr Ahmad Zahid played a key role in convincing members of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party to back Pakatan Harapan (PH) chief Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister after the 15th General Election yielded a hung parliament. 

Political analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani told CNA the “general public perception” is that Syed Saddiq’s sentence is harsh, especially coming just two months after Mr Ahmad Zahid’s DNAA. 

“Furthermore, (the verdict came) after Syed decided to pull his support from Anwar and became critical of the prime minister. This has led to allegations that sentencing was politically motivated as MUDA has long been viewed by leaders within PH to be undercutting its support from young and urban voters,” said Mr Asrul Hadi, who was formerly with strategic advisory firm BowerGroup Asia. 

Political analyst James Chin, who is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania and Senior Fellow at the Malaysian think tank Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia, also acknowledged allegations among Malaysians of double standards. 

“People feel the sentence is too harsh because I think Malaysians know and understand that political parties across the country receive donations,” said Prof Chin. 

“I think if he was fined, people would accept it but the seven-year jail term on top of caning is harsh,” he added. 

However, analysts stressed it is unlikely that public perception of Prime Minister Anwar’s anti-graft stance would be impacted by Syed Saddiq’s guilty verdict. 

Mr Asrul Hadi said: “While Anwar’s credibility and public perception may be bruised, he will not be impacted politically as MUDA does not have the grassroots, nor does it have a significant number of seats at both the federal and state levels.” 

Syed Saddiq is MUDA’s sole representative in the federal government. MUDA’s acting president Amira Aisya Abd Aziz is the only other member who holds a seat - she is a state assemblyman for Johor’s Puteri Wangsa constituency. 

“The verdict has given an opportunity for MUDA as a party to realign itself and prove that it is not a one-person party. If not, the party could risk losing its members and leaders to other political parties, especially if Syed (Saddiq) fails in his appeal process,” added Mr Asrul Hadi. 

Source: CNA/am


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