Malaysian opposition lawmaker MP Rafizi Ramli has been handed an 18-month jail sentence on 14 November for the unauthorised possession and leaking of an audit report into state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Rafizi was found guilty of possessing page 98 of the 1MDB audit report at the Parliament lobby in Kuala Lumpur on 24 March 2016, without approval, thereby breaching the Official Secrets Act 1972. He was also found guilty of leaking the contents of the audit report to the media at a news conference on 28 March 2016.
"A video recording [of a press conference he gave] at Parliament clearly shows him committing the offences," Sessions Court Judge Zulqarnain Hassan said in a packed courtroom on 14 November, New Straits Times reported.
Judge Zulqarnain granted a stay on the jail sentence pending appeal. The 39-year-old Vice President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), now risks being barred from contesting in the next general election unless his conviction is overturned or he is pardoned.
Under the Federal Constitution, an MP is disqualified for a period of five years if he or she is sentenced to jail for a year or more or fined 2,000 ringgit and above and has not received a pardon.
Gobind Singh Deo, the lawyer for Rafizi, told The Star that although he would be disqualified as a candidate, at the moment, Rafizi remains an MP until the "conviction against him is fully disposed of on appeal."
In comments to reporters, Rafizi said: "The verdict is not at all unexpected, I would have had the shock of my life if I had been acquitted today." Rafizi insists that he did not have an actual copy of the document and had only described to reporters a redacted version of it that he had obtained from an undisclosed source.
In the news conference, Rafizi claimed the auditor-general's report showed that 1MDB was partly responsible for delays in gratuity payments to retired military servicemen.
Advocacy group, Human Rights Watch said the conviction was an "unprecedented, rights-abusing use of this act which can have only one purpose: to intimidate whistle-blowers into silence over the 1MDB corruption scandal," The Wall Street Journal reports.
A travel ban was also imposed on Rafizi and another MP Tony Pua. Rafizi only found out he was barred from leaving the country following checks with the Immigration Department while Pua was stopped from leaving Malaysia on 22 July 2015 when he was at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
1MDB has been receiving global attention after several countries launched official investigations into alleged money laundering and corruption via the sovereign fund. So far Singapore has charged several bankers in connection to 1MDB and the US Department of Justice has launched a civil suit to recover money it claims was siphoned from the fund.