Ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak will stand trial next week in a second corruption case tied to the 1MDB financial scandal, a Malaysian court ruled Tuesday as it rejected his legal team’s final attempt to delay the proceedings, local media reported.
A five-member Federal Court panel in Putrajaya ruled unanimously that Najib would stand trial Aug. 19 on 25 abuse of power and money-laundering charges.
Led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, the panel upheld previous high and appellate court decisions that Najib’s second trail would begin even as his other trial continues on seven charges related to a subsidiary of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Issuing the panel’s ruling, the chief justice said the trial judge’s decision was correct, according to Malaysian state news agency Bernama.
“[W]e agree with the Court of Appeal that there is no error. There is no reason for us to intervene,” Tengku Maimun said in court.
The upcoming trial marks the first time the former leader will face charges directly stemming from the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB, a state investment fund Najib established 10 years ago in his dual role as prime minister and finance minister, as a vehicle for spurring economic development in the country.
The former prime minister could face as many as three more trials on 10 additional charges.
During Tuesday’s courtroom proceedings, Attorney General Tommy Thomas told the judges that the prosecution’s case against Najib on seven charges in the trial in the SRC International case was wrapping up and he expected to finish it by Friday.
“Even if the prosecution cannot close on Aug. 16, the spillover the following week will only be for a few days,” the attorney general said, according to Bernama.
After the original February date was delayed, Najib appeared in court on April 3 for the start of the SRC trial related to the transfer of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10 million) from the 1MDB subsidiary. Prosecutors allege he received the money between Dec. 24, 2014, and March 2, 2015, and transferred the funds to accounts held by or partners with SRC International.
Najib is standing trial on three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of power tied to the transfer of SRC International funds.
Once the prosecution team finishes presenting testimony and its evidence to the court, the trial judge will determine if there is a prima facie case against Najib and if so, set dates for the defendant to present his case, according to officials.
Lead defense attorney Muhammad Shafee Abdullah argued Najib would not get fair trials if both cases proceed at the same time, adding that both sides would need about a month to prepare their submissions at the end of the prosecution phase of the ongoing trial, according to the news agency.
“We can’t split ourselves and neither can the accused split himself,” Shafee told the court about trying to defend Najib in two trials at the same time, according to the Malay Mail.
Shafee was charged last year with two counts of money laundering and two counts of tax fraud for a pair of transactions totaling 9.5 million ringgit ($2.26 million) between September 2013 and February 2014. He could face up to 40 years in prison and fines up to $20 million ringgit ($4.76 million) if convicted of all charges.
At that time, the attorney called the charges politically motivated to remove him from Najib’s defense team.
The Aug. 19 trial centers on four counts of violating the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act and 21 counts of money laundering involving 1MDB funds totaling 2.28 billion ringgit (U.S. $543 million), according to Bernama.
Filed in September 2018, the charges allege that the money was transferred from the 1MDB fund to Najib’s personal bank accounts when he served as prime minister.
1MDB has been the target of lawsuits and criminal investigations around the globe after billions of dollars allegedly went missing from the fund. U.S. Justice Department officials have described the 1MDB case as “the worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times.”
Najib served as Malaysia’s prime minister until May 2018 when the upstart Pakatan Harapan coalition pulled off an electoral upset and took over the government. While in power, Najib was cleared of wrongdoing involving 1MDB by then-Attorney General Apandi Ali.
Najib’s successor as prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, appointed Thomas and opened new investigations into 1MDB, leading to the charges against Najib and others, including his wife, Rosmah Mansor, and financier Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low).
Jho Low, a fugitive, has been charged with receiving funds and transferring funds totaling 1 billion ringgit ($238 million). The government seized and later sold his $250 million yacht, the Equanimity.