Malaysia ex-PM Najib charged with three counts of money laundering

Najib Razak arrives at court in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 8. Photographer: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering linked to 1MDB as prosecutors alleged more wrongdoing by the ex-premier during his oversight of the state investment fund.

Najib was charged with three counts of money laundering breaches related to SRC International Sdn, a former unit of state fund 1MDB. The charges carry a punishment of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of no less than five times the amount funds involved.

He has also pleaded not guilty to earlier charges of corruption and criminal breach of trust, also linked to SRC, that were served on July 4.

Setting Precedent

The indictment, the first for a former premier of Malaysia, comes after the country revived domestic investigations into the state fund following Najib’s fall from power in May. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is seeking to recover $4.5 billion of funds potentially lost through 1MDB, whose full name is 1Malaysia Development Bhd, including by seizing a $250-million yacht and seeking to recoup fees from Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The new charges against Najib allege that around Dec. 26, 2014, he received a 27 million ringgit ($6.62 million) transfer of funds from illicit activities to his account at AmIslamic Bank Bhd. The second charge alleges that around the same date, he received a 5 million ringgit transfer to a different account at the same bank. The third charge alleges that around Feb. 10, 2015, he received 10 million ringgit of funds from illegal activities.

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Earlier corruption charges against Najib involve the same lender and allegedly happened during a similar time, while a charge for criminal breach of trust is linked to Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan) and allegedly happened between Aug. 17, 2011 and Feb. 8, 2012.

Lawyers representing Najib are expected to file a written request for a permanent gag order during the case management on Wednesday, which would institute a ban on public statements commenting on the merits of the case in an unfair or prejudiced manner.

Deny Wrongdoing

Najib, who was once Mahathir’s protege, has consistently denied any wrongdoing and called the renewed probe into 1MDB a “politically motivated” move. His supporters compared his plight to that of Anwar Ibrahim, who was fired as deputy prime minister under Mahathir and subsequently jailed for sodomy and abuse of power in the late 1990s.

Mahathir has repeatedly said that he isn’t seeking revenge and pledged to uphold the rule of law in pursuing those who have done wrong against the country.

“We will hold to this promise even if it slows down the process of prosecuting those we know are guilty,” he said in a Saturday speech to mark a series of events leading up to the nation’s independence day.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has sought out other names linked to 1MDB, including financier Low Taek Jho, former 1MDB officials Tang Keng Chee, Geh Choh Heng, Loo Ai Swan and Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil.

The commission said in early July that the domestic investigation into 1MDB was almost complete, with authorities then in the process of collecting evidence from overseas.

Bloomberg