Ex-Malaysian PM Najib ‘Pivotal’ in Theft of 1MDB Millions, Prosecutor Says

Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
190828-MY-1MB-trail1000.jpg Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on the first day of his 1MDB trial, Aug 28, 2019.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak played a “pivotal role” in the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from Malaysia’s 1MDB fund, the prosecution argued as the ex-leader went on trial Wednesday in the second and biggest corruption case against him stemming from the financial scandal.

In the long awaited trial that opened at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, Najib faces 25 charges of abuse of power and laundering of money connected with 2.3 billion ringgit (U.S. $681 million) that went missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

“An elaborate charade was employed. It was acted out in four phases in which several characters played a part. But it was the accused [Najib] who played the pivotal role. His objective was to enrich himself,” Gopal Sri Ram, the chief prosecutor, told the court in an opening statement that ran 16 pages.

He said the prosecution would prove that Najib had conspired with fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho – better known as Jho Low – to steal money from the state fund that Najib founded in 2009, when he served a dual role as prime minister and finance minister, as a vehicle for spurring economic development in the country. Najib had also served as chairman of 1MDB’s board of directors.

“He used that position and that of Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to do certain acts and to exert influence over the board … to carry out certain abnormal transactions with undue haste,” Sri Ram said. “The ultimate aim of the accused was to obtain gratification for himself. He succeeded in achieving that aim.”

Altogether Najib faces 42 charges in various criminal cases against him, including in a separate trial that began earlier this year. The 66-year-old has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Najib’s ruling coalition was swept out of power in a general election last year, amid widespread calls that he resign over the 1MDB affair.

“The prosecution will prove that the accused, by his words and conduct, made it clear to 1MDB’s officers, its board and others that Jho Low was [Najib’s] alter ego. In truth, Jho Low was the accused’s mirror image,” Sri Ram said, adding that prosecutors would establish facts giving rise “to an irresistible inference that Jho Low and the accused acted as one at all material times.”

Low, a financier who became famous around the globe for a jet-setting lifestyle and partying with Hollywood stars, is a target of criminal investigations and lawsuits by U.S. officials in connection with 1MDB.

Jho Low’s whereabouts are unknown but he has consistently denied any involvement in the 1MDB scandal, via statements issued through a public relations firm that represents him. The American Department of Justice has describe the 1MBD affair as the “worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times.”

According to Sri Ram, after news of the scandal broke in July 2015, Najib and Jho Low tried to cover their tracks by producing falsified documents purporting that the stolen money was a donation from an Arab prince.

“Among these were letters and four [bank] checks each for a sum of U.S. $25 million purportedly written out by a person said to be the Arab donor. But these checks were never meant to be encashed,” the prosecutor told the court.

Najib had claimed earlier that the money was donated by Saudi Arabia in appreciation for Malaysia’s practice and championing of Sunni Islam, as well as for fighting the Islamic State militant group. The funds, however, were deposited into Najib’s bank accounts well before IS became known worldwide when it declared its caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014.



After Wednesday’s hearing, Najib’s lead attorney challenged the prosecution to prove that his client was involved in forging papers.

“My client believes honestly that it came from the Saudi king because he met with the Saudi king, and there was that promise of 1 billion [dollars], and money did come into his account,” defense lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told reporters outside the courtroom.

Shafee, who is also representing the former PM in the SRC International trial, accused Jho Low of manipulating Najib as well as misleading banks and other authorities for his own gain.

“We will raise all this. So to say that my client is the alter ego [of Jho Low], I want to see them proving it,” Shafee said.

“You can see from the SRC trial, the prosecution had a great deal of a struggle to even link us with Jho Low,” the chief defense counsel added.

The 1MDB trial proceedings started a day after the prosecution rested its case in Najib’s first trial, where he faces seven charges related to the alleged illegal diversion of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.9 million) in funds from SRC International, a 1MDB subsidiary.

The 1MDB trial will continue till November and is expected to hear testimony from up to 60 witnesses.

In the SRC trial, the two sides will present oral submissions in October, after which the judge is expected to rule on Nov. 11 whether Najib will have to enter a defense.


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