KUALA LUMPUR • Former prime minister Najib Razak and his former deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday appeared in two separate trials at the High Court to answer criminal charges brought against them by the Malaysian government.
It was a rare spectacle involving two men who were once the leaders of the coalition that governed South-east Asia's third-largest economy.
Najib, 66, is facing his third criminal trial - this time for allegedly tampering with the final audit report of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) before it was presented to a parliamentary watchdog committee. On trial with him is former 1MDB chief executive Arul Kanda Kandasamy.
Zahid, also 66, faces 47 charges involving criminal transactions totalling RM117.25 million (S$38.3 million) involving his charity foundation.
Zahid is the current president of Umno, the lead party in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. The BN coalition was defeated in the general election last year - when it was led by Najib - due to anger over the 1MDB scandal and bread-and-butter issues.
Najib was charged on Dec 12 last year for allegedly using his position as prime minister to order amendments to the 2016 final audit of 1MDB before it was tabled before Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, to avoid disciplinary action.
Najib faces two other trials involving 1MDB, a state fund he founded, and which is at the centre of an international financial scandal.
Arul Kanda is on trial for abetting Najib in making amendments to the report.
Najib last week attempted to apply for the audit-tampering trial to be postponed at the eleventh hour, but the judge dismissed the application on the grounds that it was difficult to find alternative dates. He also noted that ample notice and reasonable time had been given.
Datuk N. Sivananthan, the lawyer for Arul Kanda, last week objected to a postponement.
"My client Arul Kanda has been under a dark cloud since he was charged last year and he wants to see this trial go on," Mr Sivananthan told reporters.
Meanwhile, the court in the Zahid trial yesterday heard lead prosecutor Raja Rozela Raja Toran's opening statement. She alleged that Zahid knew that the funds came to be in possession of Yayasan Akalbudi, his charity foundation, through various means.
She said the prosecution will show that the funds were used for personal reasons, such as settling credit card bills and the purchase of motor vehicle insurance and road taxes, the Malay Mail online reported.
The Star daily reported that there were also remittances by Zahid to a law firm using the foundation's funds, and contributions to the police football association.
Zahid also received RM21.25 million as payment for awarding three contracts to several companies while he was the home minister, Ms Raja Rozela said, according to the Malay Mail.
DPA, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK