Najib's graft trial expected to start today

Former premier Najib Razak's trial would be a landmark event for Malaysia not just legally but also politically, say analysts.
Former premier Najib Razak's trial would be a landmark event for Malaysia not just legally but also politically, say analysts.

KUALA LUMPUR • The corruption trial of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak is expected to start today, despite a last-minute attempt by him to postpone the proceedings.

Najib is facing seven charges of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power involving RM42 million (S$14 million) in funds belonging to SRC International, a former unit of troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which is at the centre of global investigations involving about US$4.5 billion (S$6 billion) of allegedly misappropriated funds.

The seven charges are the first set of charges to be tried in court out of the 42 counts of corruption and money-laundering charges levelled against Najib. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

"This is likely to be the mother of legal battles in Malaysian history," said Mr Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "It's going to be tough. This growing array of charges also means it will take more time to wrap up the legal fight."

The Kuala Lumpur Court Complex is expected to be swarmed by local and international media covering the trial.

Political analysts said Najib's trial would be a landmark event for the country, not just legally but also politically.

The Pakatan Harapan coalition swept to power at the general election last May, fuelled in part by voter anger over the 1MDB scandal.

Universiti Malaya political analyst Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali said sympathy or support for Najib could grow if the public perceived that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence during the trial.

He also believed the trial would not limit Najib's ability to continue engaging the public by attending events such as those organised by non-governmental organisations.

"The trial will not tie Najib down and I don't think it will curb his political activities," he said.

The trial was originally slated on Feb 12, but was postponed because of appeals over procedural matters raised in pre-trial hearings.

Last week, a judge ruled that the trial should proceed.

However, Najib, 66, filed a judicial review on Monday against the decision not to grant him a stay on the upcoming proceeding.

Mr Harvinderjit Singh, one of Najib's lawyers, said the application was filed at the Federal Court.

He said the review will be heard before a panel at the Federal Court tomorrow.

As such, Najib's trial will proceed as planned. The Star daily said the prosecution has 63 witnesses on its list so far.

On Tuesday, Najib's daughter Nooryana Najwa paid tribute to him on her Instagram account, saying that she, together with his supporters, are praying for him.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2019, with the headline Najib's graft trial expected to start today. Subscribe