A Malaysian court sentenced former PM Najib Razak to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty on seven counts in the first of several multi-million dollar corruption trials.
Najib had pleaded not guilty to the charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power. The case against him is seen as a test of Malaysia’s anti-corruption efforts.
The 1MDB scandal around a state-owned wealth fund in Malaysia has uncovered a global web of fraud and corruption.
It sent shockwaves through Malaysia’s political establishment, leading to the toppling of Najib’s UMNO party, which had governed the country for 61 years since it gained independence.
Najib, in office from 2009 to 2018, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for abuse of power, and 10 years in jail for each of six counts of money laundering and breach of trust.
The sentences will run concurrently but suspended pending furthter appeal.
“After considering all evidence in this trial, I find that the prosecution has successfully proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali told the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
“I am surely not satisfied with the result,” Najib told reporters after the verdict.
“This is definitely not the end of the world, because there’s a process of appeal, and we hope that we would be successful then,” he added.
The verdict was centred around US$10 million transferred from the fund to the then-prime minister’s private accounts. Najib however denies all wrongdoing and says he was misled by financial advisers, in particular fugitive financier Jho Low.
Jho Low has been charged in both the US and Malaysia, but also maintains his innocence.
Najib’s defence team argued he was led to believe the funds in his accounts were donated by the Saudi royal family rather than misappropriated from the state fund.
The charges carried as much as 15 to 20 years in prison each.
The case centres around the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund set up in 2009, when Najib Razak was prime minister.
Sovereign wealth funds are government-owned investment funds that are used to boost a country’s economic development. Built with state earnings, such as revenues from oil resources and exports, they have extraordinary flows of cash to invest and potentially enormous international clout.
In 2015, questions were raised around 1MBD’s activities after it missed payments owed to banks and bondholders.
Malaysian and US authorities allege that $4.5bn was illicitly plundered from the fund and diverted into private pockets.
The missing money has been linked to luxury real estate, a private jet, Van Gogh and Monet artworks – and even a Hollywood blockbuster, the Wolf of Wall Street.