Asia World

Tue 28 July 2020:

Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak was on Tuesday (July 28) found guilty of all seven charges in the first of his five trials relating to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Judge Mohd Nazlan Ghazali said the defence had failed to raise reasonable doubt over Najib’s role in diverting an estimated 42 million ringgit ($9.8m in current rate) from SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, into his personal bank accounts.

At one point during the reading of the verdict, Judge Mohd Nazlan said that Najib, who also held the post of finance minister, “acted outside the limits of the permissible conduct” in the approval of loans, which were later became a source of funds transferred to his account.

He said Najib “benefited” from the approval of the loan, and that the defence had failed to raise reasonable doubt over the offence of abuse of power – the first of the seven charges.

The former prime minister faces decades in jail, as well as hefty fines following his conviction. 

The decision comes just six days after the High Court ordered Najib to pay the government as much as 1.69 billing ringgit ($400m) in unpaid taxes and penalties, for the years from 20111 to 2017. 

Ahead of the verdict on Tuesday, hundreds of Najib’s supporters gathered outside the court to show their backing for the embattled politician, who was once considered the country’s most powerful man.

Najib got out of his vehicle and walked a few hundred yards from the court as his supporters shouted slogans and rushed to greet him.

The United States Department of Justice alleges 1MDB was drained of $4.5bn of government money during Najib’s time as prime minister.

Prosecutors say that Najib played a direct role and gave instructions to deposit money into his bank accounts, which was later used for political funding, to buy luxury goods and renovate his property. 

Najib pleaded not guilty to the charges at the start of the trial in April. In December, he took the witness stand to defend himself – a first for a former leader of the country.

The former prime minister’s lead defence lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, had argued that Najib was “not part of the conspiracy” to the defraud the government, laying the blame on fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Taek Low, also known as Jho Low.

Najib has claimed the legal proceedings as political witch-hunt.

In November, the court ordered Najib to enter his defence, saying he had “enormous and overarching influence” over the fund.

The judge noted that Najib also held the finance ministry portfolio, giving him “considerable power” to order where the money from SRC should go.

So far, Najib has faced three separate trials.

The second and biggest case covers several charges including 21 counts of money laundering involving $550m directly from 1MDB, while the third case, which started on November 18, relates to alleged abuse of power and cover up of an audit report at 1MDB. Two more trials are pending.

The scandal at 1MDB fuelled mass protests and led to the downfall of Najib’s government in May 2018.

Najib has remained free on bail throughout the trial, criticising the policies of his former mentor, Mahathir Mohamad and the coalition that replaced him.

But Mahathir himself was forced to leave the job in March this year, after a group of disgruntled former members of his coalition backed by Najib’s party, UMNO, pledged their support to the current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

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