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Malaysia's Najib could be freed if his party wins poll: ex-PM

Ex-leader Najib Razak is serving a 12-year prison term for corruption. ©AFP

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - Malaysia's jailed ex-leader Najib Razak could be freed if his ruling party wins snap elections expected next month, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday.

Najib is serving a 12-year prison term for corruption linked to the misuse of billions in public money.He was ousted from power at polls in 2018 by Mahathir's opposition alliance amid anger over the scandal.

But Najib's long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) returned to office in August last year and is now seeking a fresh mandate after dissolving parliament Monday.

"If they win and form the government, their first objective is to free Najib," Mahathir told a media conference Tuesday.

"Najib will be pardoned and released and all other charges will be dropped."

The disgraced former leader remains a member of UMNO but cannot stand for election because of his conviction on a batch of charges linked to the financial scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad. 

He still faces more corruption charges that could land him in jail even longer.

Billions of dollars were plundered from the sovereign wealth fund and spent on everything from a luxury yacht to artwork in a fraud involving Najib and his inner circle.

After Najib was ousted from office, nonagenarian Mahathir became prime minister for the second time in his long political career.

But Mahathir's reformist coalition lasted only 22 months due to infighting, paving the way for UMNO's return to power.

Malaysia's next elections were not due until September next year but current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament Monday, clearing the way for early polls, most likely next month.

UMNO is confident of securing a big win despite rivalry among its leaders.

Mahathir, now 97, said he will seek re-election as an MP.

His party has decided to field him once more in his constituency of Langkawi, north of the capital Kuala Lumpur, the veteran said.

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