Najib, the first ex-premier in Malaysia to appear in front of a judge, is accused of pocketing 42 million ringgit (USD 10.4 million), and three counts of criminal breach of trust. Each charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in jail. The unprecedented court appearance came the day after the 64-year-old was arrested at his luxury home by officers probing how billions of dollars of state funds disappeared on his watch. Allegations of massive corruption were a major factor behind the shock election loss in May of Najib’s long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance headed by his 92-year-old former mentor Mahathir Mohamad.
Wednesday’s court hearing was the latest step in a quick-moving investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Najib, his family and many of his close political and business allies. “Najib is the first (former) prime minister ever to be charged in court in the history of Malaysia,” said Tian Chua, vice president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, a key political party in the current ruling coalition. “It signals a new era where no one in public office will be immune from punitive action if they abuse power,” he added.
State prosecutors asked that the case be transferred to the High Court because of the severity of the charges. Najib is expected to enter a plea there later today. According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, USD 10.6 million originating from SRC International Sdn Bhd, an energy company that was originally a subsidiary of 1MDB, was transferred to Najib’s personal bank accounts, a fraction of hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB that was allegedly funnelled to him. Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing. Since the election loss Najib has been banned from leaving the country. “We pray Datuk Seri Najib gets a fair trial. It is a test from Allah,” the former leader’s daughter-in-law Nur Sharmila Shaheen said, using an honourific title, adding her father-in-law was “calm”.
A press statement issued by Najib’s camp late yesterday said the impending charges and other investigations “are politically motivated and the result of political vengeance” under Mahathir. It vowed that Najib “will contest these charges and clear his name in court”. Najib and his allies are accused of plundering billions of dollars from the 1MDB to buy everything from US real estate to artworks. Shortly after his downfall, a treasure trove of valuables was seized in raids on properties linked to Najib and his family including cash, jewellery and luxury handbags worth up to USD 273 million. He and his luxury-loving wife Rosmah Mansor were questioned by investigators, as were his stepson Riza Aziz, whose firm produced the hit 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and his former deputy Zahid Hamidi.