Former Prime Minister Najib Razak will have to defend himself against charges tied to the alleged looting of billions at the 1MDB state fund, a Malaysian judge ruled Monday, saying the prosecution’s case had merit and denying a prompt acquittal in the former leader’s first corruption trial.
Najib, who was ousted in a general election last year, partly as a result of a campaign pledge by the opposition to root out corruption, told the court he would testify when the trial resumed on Dec. 3.
High Court Judge Nazlan Ghazali said the prosecution had shown credible evidence that Najib, 66, would have to answer the seven charges against him related to accusations that he illegally received transfers of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
“The actions taken by the accused cannot be construed as a purely lawful exercise,” the judge said. “As such, l now call upon the accused to enter his defense in respect of all the seven charges.”
Najib has pleaded not guilty to four charges of corruption and three counts of money laundering in the SRC trial. If convicted, he could face stiff fines and up to 20 years of prison terms for each corruption charge and up to 15 years for each money laundering count.
Discussing the allegations against Najib, the judge said the former prime minister’s conduct in the SRC case was “pervasive and imperious” and showed he held “personal interest beyond that of the public office.”
“I am calm and I am cool,” Najib told BenarNews as he walked out of the courtroom at the Jalan Duta court complex with an entourage of about 10, including his son, Nizar Najib, daughter Nooryana Najwa and parliamentary opposition leader Ismail Sabri Yaacob.
But his lead defense lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, told reporters that Najib was “shocked” to hear the verdict, because the former prime minister was expecting an acquittal.
“Of course, he [Najib] was surprised and shocked,” Shafee said.
Najib set up 1MDB in 2009 ostensibly to spur economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts. In 2016, The U.S. Department of Justice accused “Malaysian Official 1” and associates of his of embezzling and laundering more than $4.5 billion in 1MDB-linked money between 2009 and 2014.
U.S. investigators said the stolen funds were used to support ostentatious lifestyles and purchase items such as diamonds, real estate, paintings and a superyacht, according to court papers.
After Mahathir’s government reopened the 1MDB probe, which was allegedly stifled by his predecessor, police raided condominiums linked to Najib and seized hundreds of designer handbags and luggage stuffed with jewelry estimated at more than 1.1 billion ringgit (U.S. $264 million).
Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate criminal cases brought since his electoral defeat last year.