1MDB-linked corruption trial closes, with defence saying Najib was victim of a scam

Najib Razak faces a total of 42 counts for corruption, money-laundering and abuse of power.
Najib Razak faces a total of 42 counts for corruption, money-laundering and abuse of power.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - The corruption trial of Malaysia's former premier Najib Razak relating to funds misappropriated from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), has finally closed, with the judge setting July 28 for a verdict. The trial began in April last year.

The defence has pinned the blame on elusive financier Low Taek Jho, otherwise known as Jho Low, calling Najib a "victim of a scam".

Led by Shafee Abdullah - himself on trial for money-laundering and tax evasion - the defence has maintained that Low mismanaged Najib's accounts.

"It has become complicated for us to produce the best defence because Datuk Seri Najib is a victim of a scam, and misrepresentation by Jho Low and Nik Faisal," Shafee told the Kuala Lumpur High Court in his closing submissions this week. He was referring to Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, former chief executive officer of SRC International.

"There is not an iota of evidence that he was involved in causing the funds to be transacted," said Shafee on Friday (June 5) of Najib.

Defence lawyers presented their final rebuttal of the prosecution's charge this week from Monday, bringing to an end the closely watched trial, one of several involving the former prime minister.

Said Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali on Friday: "This court has over the whole of this week heard submissions by both defence and prosecution, and also lengthy and extensive, albeit in parts repetitive, written submissions, which in total run close to 2,000 pages. This will nevertheless assist this court… to evaluate and determine whether the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt."

Najib, 66, faces seven charges of misappropriating RM42 million (S$13.7 million) of public funds, comprising three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering, and one count of abuse of power.

He has claimed that billions of ringgit he allegedly received in his bank accounts between 2011 and 2014 when he was prime minister and finance minister were donations from Saudi Arabia's royal family, and not public funds.

But the prosecution has said that the money came from government-linked companies, including RM42 million traced back to SRC International.

SRC, previously described as "a two-dollar company" by the prosecution, as it was formed with a paid-up capital of RM2, had received from the civil servants' pension fund KWAP RM4 billion in loans guaranteed by the Finance Ministry, when Najib was both premier and finance minister.

 
 
 

Both Low and Nik Faisal are still at large.

"What is fascinating is that the accused said he did not look at his account for five years," said lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram of Najib.

"Ordinarily, even if a multi-millionaire says he did not know that RM42 million came into his accounts, he would be laughed out of court," said Datuk Sithambaram.

The prosecutor also pointed out that when Najib removed Nik Faisal as the chief executive officer of SRC amid complaints about financial misconduct, he allowed him to remain as a signatory to SRC accounts.

"Although Nik Faisal was removed as the CEO, he wasn't removed as the company's signatory and mandate holder of Najib's accounts. Why was he not removed? This was because Najib wanted Nik Faisal to control both accounts, so that he could facilitate the millions going in from SRC," he told the court.

 
 
 

This is the first time in Malaysian history that a former prime minister has been charged in court, in what is the first of five trials involving Najib, following revelations that billions misappropriated from 1MDB had found their way into Najib's accounts for his personal and political expenses.

The court had heard that some purchases made using the RM42 million of SRC funds included RM3.3 million spent on purchases at Swiss luxury jeweller De Grisogono in Italy, more than RM466,000 on a Chanel watch, and hotel stays worth over RM200,000 in three cities.

A total of 57 prosecution and 19 defence witnesses, including Najib, had testified in the trial.

If found guilty of criminal breach of trust, Najib faces a maximum imprisonment of 20 years and a fine.

On the charge of abuse of power, he faces imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine of at least five times the amount or value of the bribe or RM10,000, whichever is higher.

 
 
 

If found guilty of money-laundering, Najib faces up to 15 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to five times the sum of the illicit proceeds or RM5 million, whichever is higher, on each count.

Najib faces a total of 42 counts for corruption, money-laundering and abuse of power spanning five different cases tied to 1MDB.

A guilty verdict would bar him from contesting a general election within five years.

The prosecution said on Friday that it expects the case to be completed within a year, following appeals to the appellate and federal courts.