Malaysian ex-PM pleads not guilty in graft trial - GulfToday

Malaysian ex-PM pleads not guilty in graft trial

Najib-Razak

Najib Razak (centre) walks into the courtroom in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak pleaded not guilty to all charges against him as he went on trial on Wednesday over a multi-billion-dollar fraud, almost a year after his shock election loss.

The 65-year-old faced the first of several trials over his alleged involvement in the looting of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, a state investment vehicle established to develop the economy of the Southeast Asian nation.

A small crowd of supporters was waiting for Najib as he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur court ahead of his trial, and he prayed with them for a few minutes before entering the building to shouts of “Long Live Najib.”

Looking relaxed in the dock, he denied seven corruption and money-laundering charges related to the alleged theft of 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit. It is just a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars that he allegedly stole.

Opening the prosecution, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas told the High Court it was the “first trial in our courts against a former prime minister, who for nearly a decade occupied the most powerful office in the land and wielded near absolute power.

“Such privilege carries with it enormous responsibility. The accused is not above the law,” he added.

After the first witness, an official from the Companies Commission of Malaysia, gave largely technical evidence related to corporate records, the trial was adjourned.

The judge set the next hearing for April 15, and trial dates until May 10.

Najib left without commenting, to cheers from his supporters waiting outside court.

It is rare for the attorney general to lead the prosecution, and his presence signals the importance the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attaches to the trial.

Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, known for her designer handbags and jewellery, has also been charged with corruption. She has pleaded not guilty.

Thomas said prosecution evidence would establish that Najib’s credit card was charged with expenses of $130,625 at a Chanel store in Honolulu.

The government said that a luxury yacht allegedly bought with money stolen from a troubled state investment fund will be sold to casino operator Genting Berhad for $126 million, half its original price.

Thomas said the Admiralty Court on Wednesday approved the sale of the Equanimity, which has lavish amenities including a helicopter landing pad, plunge pool, gymnasium and a cinema. Genting will pay up by end of April, making it the “highest recovery to date” for the government from the scandal, he said in a statement.

Us investigators say the $250 million yacht was bought with funds diverted from the 1MDB by fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, believed to be a key figure in the theft and international laundering of $4.5 billion from 1MDB.

The yacht was seized by Indonesian authorities off Bali island last year in cooperation with the FBI and subsequently handed back to Malaysia. The US Justice Department, one of several foreign agencies investigating the 1MDB scandal, had listed the yacht among the assets it could seize and sell to recover stolen funds.

Najib has become an unlikely social media phenomenon by attacking the new administration’s policies online.

The trial had been delayed from February after appeals by Najib’s lawyers, who asked the highest court on Monday to review its decision to lift a stay. That review will be heard on Thursday.

It was a relief for the government, as there had been mounting public anger about the delay in bringing Najib to justice.

Najib’s mentor-turned-nemesis Mahathir, now 93 and in his second stint in office, has pledged to bring the younger man to justice and recoup the huge sums of cash stolen from 1MDB.

The US Department of Justice, which is investigating the controversy as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believes $4.5 billion in total was looted from 1MDB.

Malaysia has also charged Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs over the scandal, alleging the bank and its former employees stole billions of dollars from 1MDB.

Agencies