Malaysia’s former leader Najib in the dock as graft trial begins

Malaysia’s former leader Najib in the dock as graft trial begins

Ten years to the day after he was first sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak stood trial on Wednesday for corruption charges linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal that brought down his government.

Najib, in dark blue suit and matching tie, smiled as he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur high court. Surrounded by media and some supporters, he offered prayers before entering to face the first of his trials over graft accusations at state fund 1MDB.

Minutes later, the former premier was sitting in the dock.

It was a stunning fall from grace for a leader who just a year ago was Malaysia’s most powerful person, and described by the attorney general on Wednesday as wielding “near absolute power” in office.

“The accused is not above the law and his prosecution and this trial should serve as precedents,” Tommy Thomas said in his opening statement, adding that it was the first of many 1MDB-linked prosecutions.

Prosecution evidence would establish that Najib’s credit card was charged with expenses of $130,625 at a Chanel store in Honolulu, Thomas added.

Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing and says the charges against him are politically motivated.

Malaysians voted Najib out of power in May 2018, as disgust grew over corruption and rising living costs. The investigations of 1Malaysia Development Berhad are seen as a test of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s promises to root out corruption.

Najib faces seven charges at the trial, three counts each of criminal breach of trust and money laundering, and one count of abuse of power. They relate to suspected transfers totaling 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) into his bank account from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to the charges over the transfers, which involve a fraction of the $1 billion investigators say made its way into his accounts.

1MDB, founded by Najib in 2009, is the subject of corruption and money laundering investigations in at least six countries. The U.S. Department of Justice has said about $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.

Since losing the election, Najib has been slapped with 42 criminal charges, most linked to 1MDB and other state entities.

The luxurious lifestyle of Najib and his family also came to light with the discovery of nearly $300 million worth of goods and cash at properties linked to him.

Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor has also been charged with corruption. She has pleaded not guilty.

The trial was delayed from its original February start date pending appeals by Najib’s lawyers. On Monday, they asked the highest court to review its decision to lift a stay on the trial. The review will be heard on Thursday.

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