Malaysia’s toppled leader Najib Razak will learn Monday if his first trial over the 1MDB scandal will proceed, in a key test of efforts to bring him to justice over the multi-billion-dollar fraud.
Vast sums were plundered from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a mammoth scam allegedly involving Najib and his cronies, which has triggered investigations around the world.
His coalition was ousted at the polls last year after more than six decades in power largely due to the scandal, and he has since been arrested and hit with dozens of 1MDB-linked charges.
In Monday’s ruling, a judge will decide whether the prosecution’s case against the former prime minister is strong enough to proceed, or if he should be cleared.
The 66-year-old went on trial for the first time in April over the controversy, in a case centring on the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit into his bank account.
Najib denies any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case in August, having called 57 witnesses, and the High Court judge’s ruling on whether the case moves forward is a usual step in the Malaysian judicial system.
Malaysia expert Bridget Welsh said the case was likely to proceed but added an acquittal would “be a blow for the government, and empower Najib, who has essentially blamed his subordinates”.
It would also dent Malaysia’s rule of law and “empower all of those abusing power and using the international financial system to their advantage”, added Welsh, a senior research associate at the National Taiwan University’s Hu Feng Center for East Asia Democratic Studies.
An acquittal would add to pressure on Malaysia’s new government, led by 94-year-old political veteran Mahathir Mohamad, which is facing criticism for not prosecuting Najib fast enough.
In their closing submissions last month, prosecutors argued that Najib acted like an “emperor” in overseeing massive graft at the unit, SRC International.
His defence team has said that the bulk of evidence does not lead to “any finding of culpability” on Najib’s part.
He is facing four charges of corruption and three money-laundering counts in the trial.
Each charge of corruption carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.
Najib’s biggest trial linked to the scandal-hit fund opened in August, centring on allegations he illicitly obtained over $500 million from 1MDB.
US authorities, who are investigating the fund as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believe $4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB.