Najib Razak charged over multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal
Malaysian former PM was arrested over what is described as the biggest corruption case in country’s history
The former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has appeared in court in Kuala Lumpur where he was charged with corruption-related offences over his alleged involvement in the multibillion-dollar 1MBD corruption scandal.
In a stunning fall from grace, the former prime minister was charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of corruption in a prosecution led by the attorney general, Tommy Thomas. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Razak said: I claim trial in a barely audible voice as he stood in the dock at the high court. Prosecutors demanded 4m ringgit (nearly $1m) bail, but the judge granted it at 1m ringgit in cash ($250,000) and ordered Najib to surrender his two diplomatic passports.
The court has also allowed an interim gag order sought by Najib’s lawyers, which restricts media discussions around merits of the case, except for what is presented in court. The attorney general said his team opposed the order and they would file a formal response. It is unclear how the scope of the order might restrict reporting of events.
Najib faces allegations that, between August 2011 and March 2015, 42m Malaysian ringgit ($10m) was transferred from SRC International, a 1MDB subsidiary, to his personal bank accounts. Each count carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Whipping is also a penalty but Najib, 64, would be exempt because of his age. The charges also carry a fine, which would be no less than five times the value of the funds in question.
The charges, which allegedly occurred over a period of more than three years, refer to Najib’s role in various government posts, including as prime minister and minister of finance.
In the first charge, for example, Najib is accused of criminal breach of trust in relation to a sum of $6.7m, in both positions. The court charge sheets also refer to the AmIslamic bank, the bank where Najib held an account through which illicit funds were allegedly channelled.
The former leader was arrested at his home on Tuesday. After being held overnight at the anti-corruption commission, Najib arrived at 8.20am at the court complex in Kuala Lumpur, wearing a dark blue suit and a red tie. Crowds jostled to catch a glance of the former leader as he was led to a sessions court. Some members of Najib’s UMNO party chanted and held up placards in solidarity.
Following the hearings on Wednesday, scenes of pandemonium erupted at the court complex when the Thomas was scheduled to give a statement to the press.
Racous Najib supporters heckled intensively and demanded that he speak in Malay, knowing that he often gives statements in English. They were eventually escorted out by police. When the attorney general eventually spoke he was flanked by heavily armed police.
Fahmi Reza, a Malaysian artist who was jailed last year for publishing a caricature of Najib looking like a clown, was among the throng of people that gathered outside the court .
Finally we can hope to see some justice being served, said Fahmi.
Convicted in the same court of charges that the artist continues to appeal against, Fahmi noted how dramatically the tables in Malaysian politics have turned.
I think this sends a really strong message to all politicians, including people in the current government, that you won’t get away, he added.
The 1MDB corruption scandal, described as the biggest in Malaysia’s history, saw billions of dollars allegedly embezzled and lavishly spent around the globe, on luxury property, a private yacht, Hollywood films and extravagant shopping sprees.
Najib has consistently denied the charges, last week telling local news portal Malaysiakini that his trial would be a test for the Malaysian judiciary. “I believe in my innocence. Therefore, the only way I can clear my name is through a system that is fair and a system that is predicated on the rule of law,” he said, “Everybody [should have] a chance to prove themselves under the system.”
Najib is going home on Wednesday after posting the agreed bail, but told the press he maintained his innocence and hope for a fair trial.
I believe in my innocence and this is the best chance for me to clear my name after all the slander and accusations against me, he said. I have served the people and the country for 42 years. If this is the price I have to pay, I am willing, he said.
Commenting on the gag order, Najibs lawyer Shafee Abdullah said it was designed to prevent prejudicial reporting of the case.
If you and your loved ones face the same situation, then you will know the importance, he said.
The arrest and trial of the former prime minister follows a surprise electoral defeat in May, which bought his former mentor, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, back to power. Mahathir had pledged to investigate the 1MDB scandal if he was elected.
An investigation into 1MDB by Najibs government previously cleared him of any wrongdoing, but there was seemingly little room for a different outcome at the time.