Kuala Lumpur, July 28, 2020 – Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak was found guilty of corruption and sentenced on Tuesday to 12 years in jail in the first trial over a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB that stretched to the Gulf states and Hollywood.
In a case widely seen as a test of the southeast Asian nation’s resolve to stamp out corruption and which could have big political implications, high court judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali sentenced Najib to 12 years and a fine of 210 million ringgit ($49.40 million) on a charge of abuse of power.
Najib, 67, also received 10 years in jail on each of three charges of criminal breach of trust and three charges of money laundering for illegally receiving nearly $10 million from SRC International, a former unit of the state fund.
“After considering all evidence in this trial, I find that the prosecution has successfully proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Mohamad Nazlan said.
He ordered the jail terms to run concurrently, but Najib’s lawyers immediately sought a stay of execution of the sentence.
Najib had pleaded not guilty, and flagged his intent to appeal to Malaysia’s Federal Court if convicted.
The nearly $10 million involved in the SRC case is a fraction of the funds Najib is alleged to have misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state fund.
Prosecutors say more than $1 billion of 1MDB funds made its way into Najib’s personal accounts, and over which he faces a total of 42 criminal charges.
U.S. and Malaysian authorities say a total of $4.5 billion is believed to have been stolen from 1MDB, a fund Najib founded to promote economic development, and used across the world by his associates to buy art, a superyacht and fund the “Wolf of Wall Street” movie.
Prosecutors have also said $27 million was used to buy a pink diamond necklace for Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and some of the money went into war chests for Najib’s election campaigns.
Former U.S. attorney-general Jeff Sessions described the scandal as kleptocracy at its worst.
Allegations of corruption over 1MDB have hung over Najib for more than five years. But the criminal charges came only after his defeat in the 2018 election when his successor Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations.
“The conviction sends a strong message that leaders will be held accountable for wrongdoings in office,” opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago said.
Najib’s lawyers had argued that he was misled by Malaysian financier Jho Low and other 1MDB officials into believing that the funds banked into his accounts were donated by the Saudi royal family, rather than misappropriated from SRC as prosecutors alleged. Low has denied wrongdoing.
Judge Mohamad Nazlan told the court it was “far fetched” to believe Najib could have been misled by Low and asked why he never questioned Low’s claim that the money was a donation.
Dozens of Najib supporters, gathered outside the courthouse for hours, called for the former premier to be freed and were seen offering prayers.
Since his ouster two years ago, Najib has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after embarking on a makeover of his public persona, adopting a more personable tone to replace his image as a super-rich patrician.
His party returned to power in February as part of an alliance led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
The guilty verdict could boost Muhyiddin’s credibility with the public, but create tensions within the coalition in which Najib’s UMNO party is the biggest component.
Sources have said if Najib is found guilty, there’s a real threat of his camp withdrawing support for the government, which has a razor thin majority.
Exactly five years ago, Najib fired Muhyiddin – then his deputy – for questioning him about the money flows from 1MDB. – Reuters