The judge presiding over the landmark first corruption trial against ex-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak linked to a subsidiary of the financial-scandal hit state development fund 1MDB announced on Friday that he would issue his verdict next month.
Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Nazlan Ghazali said he needed time, after hearing several days of closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys this week, before he could hand down a ruling in the case.
If convicted, Najib could face fines and up to 20-year prison terms for each of four corruption counts and up to 15 years for each of three money-laundering counts tied to charges that he illegally received 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.67 million) from SRC International, a subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
“The court has heard submissions from both parties. The court will now evaluate whether the prosecution has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt,” Nazlan said. “I will deliver my ruling at 10 a.m. July 28.
The announcement came after Najib’s defense, led by lead attorney Shafee Abdullah, spent nearly four days arguing for his acquittal.
Quoting from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Shafee said the defense had faced overwhelming public prejudice.
“Sit down a while, and let us once again assail your ears, that are so fortified against our story,” he told the court.
“Public prejudice is so high that it makes mounting a defense in a case like this very difficult. The 42 million ringgit went into my client’s account: that is the prosecution’s case. The public wants to think this alone is equivalent to a smoking gun,” Shafee said during closing arguments on Thursday.
Joined by attorneys Harvinderjit Singh and Farhan Read, Shafee hammered the point that Najib was a victim of manipulation by 1MDB financier Jho Low as well as SRC International’s former managing director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil – both fugitives from justice.
The defense also argued that Najib – at all material times – believed that funds deposited in his personal accounts from mid-2014 onward were donations from Saudi Arabia.
The trial against Najib began on April 3, 2019, and testimony from 57 prosecution and 19 defense witnesses concluded on March 11.
The prosecution blamed Najib, who also held the portfolio of finance minister, for orchestrating the crime, saying Jho Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, acted on his orders.
“We say Jho Low is not acting behind the scenes but was acting with the knowledge of the accused. (Najib) himself confirmed that there were some communications, although to be fair to him, it was not a lot,” lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram told the court on Thursday.
“He said: He talks to me but not so often, but he talks to Azlin (more),” Sithambaram said, quoting Najib’s testimony during cross examination.
On Jan. 9, Najib told the court that he had communicated with Low to make sure his checks were valid. Najib added that such communications were rare as Low communicated more with Najib’s former private secretary, Azlin Alias, who died in a helicopter crash in April 2015.
Sithambaram – who alone argued for the prosecution – also challenged the defense claim regarding the money in Najib’s account.
“The accused did not dispute 42 million ringgit came in, he only disputed it was SRC’s money. He goes on to say he thought it was Arab funds and I presented that cannot be the case,” Sithambaram 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” – later identified as Najib – and associates of embezzling and laundering more than U.S. $4.5 billion (18.8 billion ringgit) in 1MDB-linked money between 2009 and 2014.
The former prime minister, who faces a total of 42 criminal counts, is standing trial in another court on 25 charges of abuse of power and laundering of money connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from 1MDB and could face additional trials on the 10 remaining charges. That trial, which has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is to resume on June 29.