Malaysian ex-PM Najib Razak stands trial in 1MDB scandal

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak appeared in a court on Wednesday over alleged abuse of power and corruption accusations related to the 1MDB scandal.

Najib faces 42 charges of corruption relating to a scandal in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the sovereign fund he set up and allegedly embezzled billions of dollars from.

As per the charge, the 65-year-old politician who led the nation from 2009 to 2018 diverted about 2.6 billion ringgit ($637 million) to private accounts. Najib pleaded not guilty to all the charges. While he faces several criminal cases, Wednesday’s trial was the first in the scandal, the BBC reported.

The 1MDB fund was designed to boost Malaysia’s economy through strategic investments, but it allegedly funded lavish lifestyles, a Hollywood film and a super-yacht.

Najib’s lawyers made a last-minute bid to delay proceedings, but the judge ruled against that.

Malaysia’s Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said the “near absolute power” Najib had wielded carried with it “enormous responsibility”. “The accused is not above the law,” he said.

As Najib appeared in the court, Malaysian officials said they would sell a luxury superyacht, owned by the alleged mastermind of the 1MDB scandal, for about half its estimated value. It was earlier valued at $250 million, but will sell for the relative bargain price of $126 million, Attorney-General Thomas said.

Prosecutors claimed the 91.5-metre Equanimity was bought by Malaysian financier Jho Low in 2014 with the money allegedly embezzled from 1MDB. The yacht has an on-board hospital, space for 26 guests and 33 crew, as well as a sauna, steam room, and swimming pool.

Thomas said Genting Malaysia Berhad, a holdings firm, will purchase the yacht, which Malaysia seized in 2018 and has struggled to get rid of.

The 1MDB scam was a major factor that led to Najib’s defeat in the May 2018 elections, when his party, the United Malays National Organization, suffered its first loss since the country’s independence from Britain. The party had dominated Malaysian politics for more than 60 years.

In the first case, Najib faces seven charges related to the transfer of 42 million ringgit from a 1MDB subsidiary to his private accounts.

Besides Kuala Lumpur, about half a dozen other countries, including the US, Switzerland and Singapore, are investigating the embezzlement of the Malaysian state fund.

The US Justice Department estimated that the $4.5 billion were diverted from 1MDB. Of that, about $1 billion would have been laundered in the US through the purchase of real estate, yachts, jewellery and art.

Headed by Najib until 2016, 1MDB was set up in 2009 to attract foreign investment and create a financial district in Kuala Lumpur. But the fund ended up accumulating losses of about 42 billion ringgit.