Court acquits ex-PM Najib, former 1MDB CEO in audit tampering case

Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Court acquits ex-PM Najib, former 1MDB CEO in audit tampering case Shafee Abdullah, the lead counsel for for former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, speaks to media at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex after the High Court acquitted his client and the former CEO of 1Malaysia Development Berhad of charges of tampering with a 1MDB audit report, March 3, 2023.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

A Malaysian court on Friday acquitted former Prime Minister Najib Razak on charges of tampering with an audit report into the troubled 1Malaysia Development Fund, where a massive financial scandal implicated Najib and brought down his government. 

The acquittal of Najib and ex-1MDB Chief Executive Officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy, who was also charged in the case with audit tampering, marked the first legal victory in a series of 1MDB-related court cases for the former PM, who was sent to prison last year for corruption and abuse of power connected to the state investment fund.

Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan ruled that the prosecution failed to gather evidence to convince the court that the two defendants must enter a defense, and so it was acquitting both of the charges.

“[A]fter a maximum examination of the evidence, I find that the prosecution has failed to adduce credible evidence to prove the ingredients of the offense which would warrant a conviction,” Mohamed Zaini said as he handed down the verdict for Najib.

“The prosecution has not made up a prima facie case against the second accused [Najib] and [he] is hence discharged and acquitted from the charge against him.”

As for Arul Kanda, “he did not attempt to cover up the shenanigans of 1MDB. He was roped in to rescue 1MDB and had left a promising career,” the judge also ruled. “It is general knowledge that he was publicly vilified for 1MDB, perhaps unfairly, as many of the problems were before his time. There was no evidence in this trial to say that he was complicit in 1MDB problems.”

A convoy of vehicles brought the former prime minister to the Kuala Lumpur courthouse from Kajang Prison, where he is incarcerated. He left the courthouse and returned to the prison after the short hearing on Friday morning.

Arul, the former CEO of 1MDB, spoke to reporters after the acquittal. 

“The facts speak for themselves, I’ve been honest and straightforward in terms of what I’ve done, why I’ve taken the job and what I did in the job. Both of us, Najib and I are relieved,” he said. 

Former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex for a High Court hearing in his trial on charges of tampering with an audit report on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, March 3, 2023. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Arul and Najib were arraigned on the charges in December 2018, months after Najib and his Barisan Nasional coalition were swept from power in a historic election, in which the opposition campaigned on a platform of ridding government of entrenched corruption. 

The two men faced the prospect of facing up to 20 years in prison each and a huge fine, if convicted in the case. 

The allegations in this case against Najib were made public in November 2018 when Auditor General Madinah Mohamad announced that several parts of a 2016 audit of 1MDB were expunged under Najib’s orders when he still served as prime minister.

The expunged sections allegedly included a mention of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low) attending a 1MDB board meeting. 

The U.S. Justice Department has described the 1MDB affair as the “worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times,” alleging that almost $4.5 billion (18.7 billion ringgit) from the state fund was embezzled and laundered through real estate and other assets.

Last August, Malaysia’s Federal Court rejected Najib’s final appeal of his July 2020 conviction in a 1MDB-linked case and sent him to prison, where he is still serving a 12-year sentence.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court, nearly three years ago, convicted Najib on one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust, and three counts of money laundering over allegations that he illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.67 million) from SRC International, a subsidiary of 1MDB.

On Friday, Najib’s lead lawyer predicted that the newest ruling signaled “the beginning of the many good things that should come” for his client.

“From the very beginning, we have stated that there was nothing to even begin with – the case,” attorney Shafee Abdullah told reporters after the ruling.

“You cannot dilute the fact that this was a politically charged case. The same goes for other cases Najib is facing as well. Other aspects come into play, and lawyers in such cases cannot predict the result because of the political dynamite.”

Najib also has three other pending criminal court cases, including his 1MDB corruption trial and a separate SRC International money laundering case involving 27 million ringgit (U.S $6.03 million).

Last January, the Federal Court heard a petition by Najib to review his conviction and prison sentence in the SRC International corruption case. The highest court is expected to render a ruling before March 31.

Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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