Malaysian ex-PM Najib due to go on trial over 1MDB-linked graft

By Rozanna Latiff
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak leaves a court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

By Rozanna Latiff

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Ten years to the day after he was sworn in, disgraced former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to go on trial on Wednesday suspected of corruption linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal that brought down his government.

Najib faces seven charges in the first of several criminal proceedings he is due to face over suspected money laundering of $4.5 billion from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The trial relates to suspected transfers totalling 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) into Najib's bank account from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of abuse of power over the transfers, which involve a fraction of the $1 billion investigators allege made its way into his accounts.

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

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas is expected to deliver the prosecution's opening statement at Kuala Lumpur High Court, Bernama state news agency reported.

The trial is due to begin at 0600 GMT.

Prosecutors are prepared to call more than 60 witnesses, and three of them - described as government and banking officials - could take the stand on Wednesday, Bernama said, quoting unnamed sources.

The trial was originally set to begin on Feb. 12, but was delayed pending appeals by Najib's lawyers. On Monday, they asked the highest court to review its decision to lift the stay on the trial, media reported.

The review will be heard on Thursday by the Federal Court, though it was unclear whether it would delay proceedings in the High Court on Wednesday.

Prosecutor V. Sithambaram said it was up to the High Court judge to decide whether the trial should be delayed pending the review. One of Najib's lawyers, Harvinderjit Singh, declined to comment.

The trial begins nearly a year after Malaysians voted Najib out of office in a general election, marked by public disgust over corruption and rising living costs, that surprisingly brought Mahathir Mohamad, 93, back to power.

Since losing the election, Najib has been slapped with a total of 42 criminal charges, most of them linked to 1MDB and other state entities. Nearly $300 million worth of goods and cash were found at properties linked to Najib after the election.

At least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore, have launched money laundering and graft probes into 1MDB, set up by Najib in 2009.

As the trial date neared, Najib, Malaysia's sixth prime minister, sought a radical change of image, painting himself as a victim of a vindictive government and trying to shed the image of a wealthy, elite politician. [L3N1ZV2LF]


(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by A. Ananthalakshmi and Nick Macfie)