Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and former Treasury secretary-general Irwan Serigar Abdullah pleaded not guilty yesterday to criminal breach of trust (CBT) charges that Najib's lawyer said were linked to the 1MDB scandal.
The two men were jointly charged with six counts of misappropriating public monies totalling some RM6.6 billion (S$2.18 billion).
The charges laid out against the duo said they abused their previous positions as finance minister and head of the finance ministry, respectively, by diverting the funds that were meant for projects and other public spending.
The new charges mean Najib now faces a total of 38 graft-related charges since July.
Prosecutors revealed in court that part of the RM6.6 billion had been earmarked for other uses including managing the expenditure of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and cash assistance for low-income Malaysians.
The sums allegedly involved six payments of RM1.2 billion, RM655 million, RM220 million, RM1.3 billion, RM1.26 billion and RM2 billion, and were committed between December 2016 and December last year.
Najib's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told reporters later that the charges were linked to the diversion of the funds to help pay off debt obligations of state company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Najib set up 1MDB in 2009, a company which is under the Ministry of Finance.
Tan Sri Shafee told the court: "There is no evidence that any of the RM6.6 billion went into Datuk Seri Najib's pocket."
"The first two charges are related to infrastructure projects, gas pipelines and ECRL (East Coast Rail Link)," he later told reporters, saying the funds were diverted for other payments.
"Basically these charges are, why did you take from this and pay that, and then pay this one from some other thing. You can see the silliness of the charge(s)," he said, adding that there was no breach of protocol.
The remaining four charges, Mr Shafee said, are in relation to payments involving Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company owed by 1MDB.
He added: "There was no personal benefit. Not a sen was benefited by my client or anybody else."
"The decision taken by him (Najib) and Tan Sri Irwan Serigar was for the good of the nation, to prevent a trigger of default which would have been disastrous to the economy of Malaysia," he had earlier said in court.
Najib later told reporters outside court: "My conscience is clear that the decisions taken were taken for the interests of the nation, in the context of when we received certain money we have to pay back, otherwise we will be at default, and it will lead to the collapse of the bond market, that will be very serious."
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper that more people would be charged for offences committed under the Najib administration.
"What we are seeing today, of course, are charges being made against several people, but there are many more," said Tun Dr Mahathir, who was on a visit to Thailand.