Malaysian ex-PM hit with 25 charges over 1MDB scandal

Najib Razak denies money laundering and abuse of power four months after being ousted in election
Malaysian ex-PM hit with 25 charges over 1MDB scandal

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak speaks to journalists after a court appearance in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 20 when he denied 25 new charges of money laundering and abuse of power. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP) reporter, Kuala Lumpur
September 20, 2018
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was arrested twice in two days — Sept. 19 and 20 — over the 1MDB scandal that caused U.S. investigative authorities to label Malaysia a kleptocracy.

It was another dramatic turn in the life of the 65 year old, once considered an untouchable political blue blood as both his father Abdul Razak and uncle Hussein Onn had served as prime ministers from 1970 to 1981.

Escorted by police as his supporters crowded outside the gates of the Kuala Lumpur court complex, Najib smiled and waved as he made his way into the courthouse on Sept. 20.

He pleaded not guilty to all 25 criminal charges filed against him for money laundering and abuse of power over his receipt, use and transfer of US$681 million into his bank account allegedly filched from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the sovereign fund he set up.

Bail was set at just over US$850,000 in two sureties.

Retired Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram, who was hired by the Malaysian Attorney General's Chambers to prosecute the case and is doing so pro bono, had objected to bail given the seriousness of the offenses.

He noted that U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions had said that this was a case of "kleptocracy at its worst."

"We object as the accused has, in 2015, interfered in the case," Gopal said, noting that Najib had a "propensity" for interfering in the case and should not receive special treatment, especially as he had made statements on social media mocking the investigation.

He said if bail was granted the prosecution wanted the court to gag Najib from talking about the case in public.

Najib's lead defense lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had argued for bail to be set at US$125,000.

The former PM was detained late on Sept. 19 and taken to Malaysia's anti-corruption headquarters to be questioned further on the 1MDB scandal that sowed the seeds for the anger against his government that led to its ouster from office in elections four months ago.

After being detained overnight, Najib was arrested again on Sept. 20 in connection with the alleged deposit of US$681 million into his personal account. Najib has continued to claim that it was a personal donation from the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia.

Malaysian police chief Noor Rashid Ibrahim said police had listed 21 charges of accepting, using and transferring illegal funds to other entities amounting to $681 million under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act.

"The charges include nine counts of receiving illegal money, five counts of using illegal money and seven counts of transferring illegal money to other entities," he told the media.

The former prime minister has continued to strongly deny any wrongdoing.

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Najib's arrest and new charges came as two books — Billion Dollar Whale and The Sarawak Report — written by foreign journalists were released internationally chronicling the tale of the 1MDB scandal.

Malaysian investigators and prosecutors, who had failed to lay charges against Najib over the scandal, now agree with foreign investigative agencies that Najib is at the center of one of the world's biggest financial crimes.

Prosecutors allege that Najib used his position and influence as prime minister for his personal gain and that he colluded in the 1MDB scandal.

Najib's arrest and overnight detention are a landmark development in the history of Malaysian democracy.

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