Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and an associate were charged in a Kuala Lumpur court Thursday with criminal breach of trust linked to Chinese-backed rail and pipeline projects that were suspended by the new government.
The charges were the latest brought against the ex-leader over allegations of massive corruption since his government crashed out of power in a general election in May. Later on Thursday, a second associate appeared in the same court to face a different breach of trust charge, according to court documents.
Najib and Irwan Serigar Abdullah, the former Treasury secretary general, were charged with six counts linked to the alleged misuse of government funds totaling 6.63 billion (U.S. $1.59 billion), according to the charge-sheet.
They pleaded not guilty to all charges, which each carry a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a possible fine.
Najib had appeared in court four times previously to face 32 other graft-related charges. On Wednesday, Najib and Irwan were questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). The commission allowed Najib to leave but held Irwan overnight.
Speaking to reporters after exiting the courtroom on Thursday, Najib said the charges were too general and not plausible, noting that the prosecution did not allege he had benefited from the transactions.
He said his actions were taken to benefit Malaysia.
“What we have done is for the good of the country, in settling the country’s debts, failing which it would affect the country’s economy, and its people,” Najib said.
Two charges involved funding tied to the recently suspended East Coast Rail Link and the Suria Strategic Energy Resources pipeline projects estimated to cost 1.2 billion ringgit ($288 million) and 665 million ringgit ($160 million), respectively.
Intelligence official charged
Hasanah Abdul Hamid, the former director-general of the now defunct Malaysian External Intelligence Organization (MEIO), appeared in court later in the day to face a criminal breach of trust charge.
The charge was tied to the alleged misuse of 50.38 million ringgit ($12.1 million) in government funds between April 30 and May 9, the day Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated Najib’s Barisan Nasional bloc in the general election.
Her case is not related to a massive corruption scandal around 1MDB that has implicated Najib, Hasanah’s lawyer, Shaharuddin Ali, told reporters. He said the use of the money for intelligence purposes was a state secret and must not be made public in an open court, the Associated Press reported.
She pleaded not guilty, was released on bail of 500,000 ringgit ($120,000) and is to return to court on Nov. 29.
The other charges involving 4.78 billion ringgit ($1.15 billion) were linked to a the alleged misuse of government funds to settle an agreement between state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), a government-run fund in Abu Dhabi.
The majority of the funds were used allegedly to pay IPIC. Under an agreement reached in 2017, 1MDB agreed to pay 5 billion ringgit ($1.2 billion) to settle a debt dispute, according to the charge sheets.
In court, Najib’s lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, brought up the IPIC connection.
“These were funds that were initially allocated for a purpose, but on priority was revised, in the face of urgency and dire straits the nation was placed into. For the purposes of settlement of the IPIC issue, an executive decision had to be undertaken very honestly,” Shafee told the court, according to Reuters news service.
Following the hearing, MACC deputy commissioner Azam Baki confirmed the connection to reporters.
“There are some of the charges related to ECRL also, but the third through the sixth charge are related to IPIC,” he said.
Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court Judge Azman Abdullah set bail at 1 million ringgit ($240,000), to be paid in two installments. Both men were released after making the proper payment and are to return to court on Nov. 29.