Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak abused his powers to enrich himself, prosecutors said yesterday, as the biggest trial involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) kicked off over claims that he illegally transferred RM2.28 billion (S$751 million) from the state fund into his personal bank accounts.
The prosecution said that he had placed himself in "sole control of important matters" at 1MDB so that he could misappropriate the money and cover up the theft.
Lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said Najib had abused his position as chairman of 1MDB and that of prime minister and minister of finance to do "certain acts" and to exert influence over the board of 1MDB to carry out certain abnormal transactions with undue haste.
"He interfered with the course of investigation of the case which has come to be known as the 1MDB scandal," Datuk Seri Gopal told the Kuala Lumpur High Court on the first day of the trial. "He took active steps to effect a cover-up of his criminal acts."
The former prime minister is facing 21 counts of money laundering and four counts of abuse of power for receiving illegal transfers totalling RM2.28 billion between 2011 and 2014.
Najib, whose Barisan Nasional coalition lost in the general election last year amid voter anger over the 1MDB scandal, has maintained that he is innocent and the charges against him are politically motivated.
The prosecution also named fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, as "an important character" in the case, saying that he colluded with Najib in carrying out the illegal transfers of money.
"The prosecution will prove that the accused (Najib), by his words and conduct, made it clear to 1MDB's officers, its board and others that Jho Low was his alter ego. In truth, Jho Low was the accused's mirror image.
"The prosecution will establish facts which will give rise to an irresistible inference that Jho Low and the accused acted as one at all material times," said Mr Gopal.
Low, who faces criminal charges in Malaysia and the United States over his alleged role in the 1MDB case, has consistently denied wrongdoing. His whereabouts are unknown.
After the 1MDB scandal became public in 2015, said Mr Gopal, Najib and Low attempted a cover-up, creating sham documents to pretend that the 1MDB funds received by Najib were a donation from a member of the Saudi royalty.
Najib's lawyers have argued that he was misled by several individuals, including Low, and that he honestly believed the funds came from Saudi Arabia.
"(Low) misled the bank, he misled 1MDB... so to say my client is the alter ego, I'd like to see them prove it," Najib's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told reporters outside the court.
To date, 1MDB has been investigated by 10 countries, including Singapore, for money laundering and graft. The US Department of Justice has alleged that more than US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) was misappropriated from 1MDB and about US$700 million of that ended up in Najib's personal bank accounts.
The Malaysian government is working with at least six countries, including the US and Singapore, to recover these stolen monies which were spent on assets like property in London and New York, expensive artwork and a luxury yacht.
The case continues today.
This is the second trial for Najib, who faces a total of 42 charges for corruption and money laundering.
His first trial relates to the misappropriation of RM42 million from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB. Prosecutors finished presenting their case on Tuesday, and the court will decide on Nov 11 if Najib is required to enter his defence.