KUALA LUMPUR, 4 July — Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak has been charged with criminal breach of trust and corruption, two months after being investigated over a multibillion dollar graft scandal under the 1MDB state investment fund.
He was arrested on 2 July by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officials over a suspicious transfer of RM42mil (approximately S$14.2mil) into his bank accounts from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB, between August 2011 and March 2015.
In a prosecution team led by the Attorney-General, Tommy Thomas, Najib was charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust under s.409 Penal Code of Malaysia.
He was also charged with one count of corruption under s.23 Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 for allegedly accepting a RM42 million bribe during an involvement in providing government guarantees for a RM4 billion loan from pension fund Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP) to SRC International.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Whipping is also counted as a penalty under the charge. However, Najib, 64, would be exempt because of his age.
Under Malaysian law, men aged 50 years old and above will not be caned.
If Najib is found guilty, he would have to pay a fine that "will be no less than five times the value of the funds in question”, according to The Guardian.
Newly-appointed Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said that he will not oppose bail for Najib, and had requested that bail be set at RM4 million (S$1.3 million) in a cash bond with two sureties, according to The Straits Times.
He had also asked for Najib's diplomatic passports to be surrendered to the court.
Najib’s lawyer Mr Muhammad Shafee requested for a reduction of the bond, arguing that the service his client has rendered to the public should be taken into account.
The case against him was transferred from the Sessions Court to the High Court in the capital city, where Najib pleaded not guilty to all four charges made against him, today, according to The Straits Times.
Najib, 64, denies any wrongdoing and has accused the new government of seeking “political vengeance.”
In a pre-recorded video posted on social media hours after his arrest, Najib apologised to Malaysians, saying:
“To beloved Malaysians, if you see this message, this means that action has already been taken against me. I wish to apologise and seek forgiveness from Malaysians.”
“As a normal human being, I am not perfect but believe me, that the accusations against me and my family are not all true,” he said.
An investigation into 1MDB by Najib’s government previously cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Several political figures, including then deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, were sacked after making critical remarks about Najib’s handling of the corruption allegations.
It is still a matter of speculation as to whether the former first lady Rosmah Mansor – who is infamous for her excessive, extravagant spending, from Birkin bags to diamond-studded watches and tiaras – will also be arrested in connection with the scandal.
Rosmah’s son, Hollywood movie producer Riza Aziz, was also questioned by anti-graft investigators for nine hours on Tuesday. He is expected to return for further questioning today.
Riza is the co-founder of the Los Angeles based production company Red Granite Pictures, which has produced films such as the Wolf of Wall Street and Dumb and Dumber To.
The US Department of Justice has previously accused the company of misappropriating money from 1MDB.
Riza has denied the allegations.
However, in March, it was revealed that his company had made an agreement to pay the US government $60m to settle a civil lawsuit that sought to seize assets purchased with money allegedly stolen from 1MDB, according to The Straits Times.
Three films produced by Red Granite Pictures were financed by illicit 1MDB funds, according to US prosecutors.
Najib set up 1MDB when he took office in 2009.
However, the state fund amassed billions in debts and is currently being investigated in the U.S. and several other countries.
Najib and his wife were questioned last month over the SRC case by the anti-graft agency and have both been barred from leaving the country. Police have also seized jewellery and valuables valued at more than 1.1 billion ringgit ($272 million) from properties linked to Najib.
U.S. investigators say $4.5 billion was stolen and laundered from 1MDB by Najib’s associates, including some $700 million that landed in Najib’s bank account.
Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert at John Cabot University in Rome, said Najib’s arrest was the “inevitable outcome” after the fall of his administration under Barisan Nasional.
“It shows the resolve of the new government to address previous abuses of power. It has been done judiciously so far and speaks to a needed reckoning for Malaysia and a key step toward a cleaner governance,” she said in an email to TIME.
(Updated as of 12:55 pm, SGT)
"JUST IN: #Najib granted bail of RM1 million, with two sureties in cash."
— TODAY (@TODAYonline) July 4, 2018