The long-awaited trial of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who is charged with embezzling millions from the state in the 1MDB corruption scandal, has opened in Kuala Lumpur after months of delays.
Najib, who served as Malaysia’s prime minister for nine years before being toppled from power last year, is facing 25 charges including abuse of power, and is accused of laundering 2.3bn ringgit ($540m) of a Malaysian government fund, known as 1MDB, for his own financial reward.
Najib denies all the charges and says he was misled by others involved in the running of the fund.
The 1MDB scandal, which was first exposed back in 2015, has been described as the “biggest kleptocracy scandal in the world” in which more than $4.5bn of state money was embezzled and spent lavishly in Malaysia and around the world on everything from Manhattan real estate and diamonds to Pablo Picasso paintings and Hollywood films.
Najib, who is the first former Malaysian prime minister to be charged with crimes carried out while in office, is accused of receiving almost one-quarter of 1MDB’s funds into his personal bank accounts.
Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah had unsuccessfully attempted to postpone the start of the 1MDB trial until September, claiming that his team needed more time to prepare after the prosecution handed him thousands of pages of documents, but last week the judged ruled it would still go ahead. Six witnesses are due to be called by the prosecution on Wednesday.
It will be the second trial that the former prime minister has faced, and it is likely he will face a third. On Tuesday, proceedings wrapped up for Najib’s first trial which related SRC international, a fund which was a subsidiary of 1MDB. Najib is alleged to have siphoned an estimated $10m from SRC International into his personal bank accounts, charges he also denies.
During the SRC trial, the profligate spending habits of Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansour were put on display in court, including Najib spending $800,000 in a single day at a luxury Swiss jeweller in Italy.
However, the 1MDB trial is considered the most significant, both for Malaysia and internationally. There are 1MDB investigations taking place in 12 countries, and in the US, the justice department recently charged two former Goldman Sachs bankers with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from Malaysia’s state development fund.