Malaysia ex-PM hit with 25 new charges over 1MDB scandal

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s ex-leader Najib Razak was hit with 25 new charges of money laundering and abuse of power linked to the 1MDB mega-scandal on Thursday, including allegations hundreds of millions of dollars were transferred to his personal bank account.
As hundreds of banner-waving supporters gathered outside the Kuala Lumpur court, Najib pleaded not guilty to all counts, which represented the most serious in a string of charges he has faced over the alleged looting of state fund 1MDB.
Najib, whose shock election defeat in May ended his coalition’s six-decade stranglehold on power in Malaysia, was accused of abusing his position to receive funds totalling 2.3 billion ringgit ($555 million) between 2011 and 2014.
The suspicious transfers to his accounts were a key chapter in the scandal, and Najib has previously insisted they were a donation from Saudi royalty — an explanation that was widely derided.
Allegations that Najib and his cronies pilfered huge sums from 1MDB and spent them on everything from high-end real estate to artwork were a major factor in the defeat of his long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad.
After being charged on Thursday, Najib gave a defiant press conference outside court: “I pray I will clear my name. I hope the rule of law exists in this country.
“We shall fight till the end and God will guide us all along the path of truth,” he added, as his supporters cheered. He was released after agreeing to post bail of 3.5 million ringgit.
Mahathir, 93, who is in his second stint as premier after coming out of retirement to take on scandal-mired Najib, has ramped up probes in the 1MDB scandal and vowed to have the ex-leader prosecuted.
The raft of charges filed on Thursday accused Najib of receiving vast amounts of money in a complex series of transactions. Many of the transfers happened ahead of a hotly contested national election in 2013, which Najib’s coalition won comfortably.
Najib was first charged over 1MDB in July and August, over allegations he pocketed money from a former unit of the fund, but the latest counts are the most significant yet as they relate to key chapter in the saga.
For each count of abuse of power, Najib faces up to 20 years in prison and for each count of money laundering, he faces up to five years.
When reports surfaced in 2015 that huge sums from 1MDB flowed into Najib’s bank accounts ahead of the poll, it dramatically ratcheted up pressure on the leader and his inner circle over the scandal.
As pressure mounted, Najib lurched sharply to the right, sacking senior figures in his coalition who dared criticise him and jailing political opponents.
The attorney-general later cleared Najib of any wrongdoing, saying the money was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family, and closed down domestic investigations. — AFP