Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET on 2018-09-20
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pleaded not guilty Thursday as a court charged him with 25 new counts of corruption, money laundering and abuse of power in connection with the alleged theft of billions of ringgit from the scandal-hit state fund 1MDB.
The Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court charged Najib with 21 counts of various alleged offenses under the country’s Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001. Najib arrived at the courthouse after he was formally arrested on Thursday in connection with the latest charges, and after spending the night in the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
The Sessions Court later released Najib after allowing him to post 3.5 million ringgit (U.S. $845,900) in bail in four installments – as requested by Najib’s defense team – starting with a payment of 1 million ringgit ($241,700) on Friday. Najib had until late next week to pay the bail in full, the court said.
“The bail is to be paid, starting from tomorrow 1 million ringgit, and subsequently, 500,000 ringgit in installments until Friday, Sept. 28,” Sessions Court Judge Azura Alwi said.
The new charges included nine counts of receiving illegitimate proceeds, five counts of using illegitimate funds, and seven counts of transferring illegitimate proceeds to other entities.
He was also charged with four counts of abuse of power in relation to 2.3 billion ringgit ($556.23 million) of money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund allegedly deposited into his personal bank accounts when he served as prime minister.
The new charges bring to 32 the total counts that Najib faces after he was charged twice earlier with money-laundering and abuse of power as part of a MACC investigation into 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund that he established in 2009 during his twin role as PM and finance minister.
He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is scheduled to stand trial in February 2019.
Najib, who wore a dark suit, arrived at the courthouse at 1:48 p.m., escorted by police and MACC officers. He smiled wearily as he waved to his supporters, who were barred from entering the court compound.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim announced that Najib was arrested outside the Federal police’s Commercial Crime Unit headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, with the consent of the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Later, Najib reiterated that he was not a thief and that the charges were aimed at tarnishing his reputation.
“This court case will give me the chance to clear my name now,” the 65-year-old former prime minister told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex lobby after emerging from Thursday’s hearing.
His court appearance on Thursday over criminal allegations was the third for Najib, the former president of UMNO party and Barisan Nasional coalition, since the bloc that ruled Malaysia for nearly 61 years was upset in the May 9 general election.
The earlier charges were related to allegations that 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) were illegally funneled electronically into his private bank accounts from SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary.
In addition, his lawyer Shafee Abdullah was charged last week with money laundering and tax fraud involving 9.5 million ringgit ($2.3 million) that he had allegedly received from Najib. Shafee called the charges politically motivated and baseless.
The probe into 1MDB reopened after the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came to power in early May. Apandi Ali, the attorney general under Najib, cleared the then-prime minister of wrongdoing in the case.
United States prosecutors filed a series of lawsuits alleging that at least $4.5 billion (18.6 billion ringgit) was stolen from 1MDB and diverted through acquisitions of real estate, artwork and luxury properties by associates of Najib. Switzerland and France also are investigating 1MDB.
Malaysian authorities are pursuing businessman-turned-fugitive Jho Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, and his father after both were charged in absentia in August.
Low, who was identified as a close associate to Najib, was charged with three counts of receiving funds and five charges of transferring funds totaling 1 billion ringgit ($261 million) under the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act.
Low's father, Larry Low Hock Peng, who is also a fugitive, was charged with transferring money to his son under the same act, authorities said.
While Najib was being charged in court, the federal police's commercial crime investigation team raided the house of his mother, Rahah Noah.
The raiding party of 14 entered the house at 4 p.m. and spent about 90 minutes there, but left empty-handed, a police source told BenarNews.
Rahah, the widow of former Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein, was home when the investigators arrived.
“Very mean of them to scare the poor lady and they found nothing in her house,” Najib attorney Shafee said, confirming the search.
Meanwhile, MACC Deputy Chief Commissioner Azam Baki told reporters that the 1MDB investigation would continue.
“More to be charged in the case. MACC will cooperate with police in the investigation and we are focusing on tracking money and assets belong to 1MDB in other countries,” Azam said.
Ali Nufael in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.