KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s ex-prime minister Najib Razak played a pivotal role in plundering the state’s 1MDB fund and channelled hundreds of millions of dollars into his own bank account, a prosecutor said Wednesday at the opening of his most significant graft trial.
Claims that Najib and his cronies pilfered massive sums from the fund and spent it on everything from real estate to artwork contributed to the defeat of his long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance.
After losing power last year, the former prime minister was arrested and hit with dozens of charges related to 1MDB. He is expected to face several trials.
The first started in April but Wednesday’s is the biggest, with Najib accused of 21 counts of money-laundering and four of abuse of power, centring on allegations that he illicitly obtained 2.28 billion ringgit ($540 million) from 1MDB.
Opening the trial, lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram told the High Court in Kuala Lumpur that Najib was a key player in the plunder of 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a fund established with the ostensible aim of boosting Malaysia’s economy.
“His objective was to enrich himself,” the prosecutor told the packed courtroom, as he outlined a series of complex financial transactions between 2011 and 2014 he said were used to funnel cash to Najib.
Najib — who was also finance minister — put himself in “sole control” of the fund’s important affairs and used his position “to exert influence over the board of 1MDB to carry out certain abnormal transactions with undue haste”.
Gopal said the former premier was the “mirror image” of fugitive financier Jho Low, who has been charged in both Malaysia and the United States.
“Jho Low and the accused acted as one at all material times,” he said. Low held no official positions at 1MDB but was believed to have exerted huge influence over its operations.
In addition, Najib “took active steps to evade justice. He interfered with the course of investigation of this case,” Gopal said.