Kuala Lumpur—The former Prime Minister of Malaysia testified for the first time on Tuesday, December 3, in his own defence as he stands trial for corruption linked to the 1MDB state investment fund, from which they syphoned billions of dollars.
Mr Najib has been accused of having received RM42 million ringgit (S$13.7 million) from SRC International, a unit under 1MDB, and has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power.
Instead, he seems to be setting the stage to point the finger of blame at fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, more popularly known as Jho Low.
The former Prime Minister said that Mr Low “portrayed himself as someone influential in the Middle East countries who I believed was able to facilitate investments and partnerships between them.”
Mr Low, who also faces charges in relation to 1MDB, is wanted in both the United States and Malaysia.
He has also pleaded his innocence.
According to the Department of Justice (DoJ) in the United States, around S$6 billion was taken from 1MDB to fund the lavish lifestyle of Mr Low and his associates, which included Hollywood actors and musicians. At one point Mr Low owned a private super-yacht, several Picasso paintings and other artwork, jewellery, a private jet, and several properties.
And while Mr Low reached a civil settlement with the DoJ in October, he still faces criminal prosecution over the 1MDB scandal.
In his opening statement, Mr Najib’s defense lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, said that the former Prime Minister had no reason to believe that funds from illegal doings had been given to him.
Mr Shafee Abdullah said that his client “was not involved in any corrupt arrangement involving funds of SRC and did not solicit any bribes from any person.”
This is the first time a former Prime Minister took the stand as the accused in a criminal case, and the first trial out of the four that are in Mr Najib’s future, with proceedings expected to drag on for many months.
The former Prime Minister has been charged with over 40 criminal charges in all, after being the subject of an investigation last year into the 1MDB’s operations, initiated by current Prime Minister Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who unseated Mr Najib unexpectedly in the elections in May 2018.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges brought against him.
Mr Najib has been hard at work to improve his tarnished image and prayed with several people on the steps of the High Court before being called to testify on Tuesday.
Should he be convicted, he could face between 15 to 20 years for each charge he is found guilty of, as well as pay heavy fines.
Rosmah Mansor, the former Prime Minister’s wife, is also facing criminal charges, as is Goldman Sachs, the US financial institution that has dealings with 1MDB.
Mr Shafee Abdullah told the press during the lunch break that they will show that Mr Najib had been a victim of plots devised by Mr Low and his associates, as the fugitive financier had bribed the heads of SRC and 1MDB to do as he directed, and withheld information from the former Prime Minister regarding Mr Low’s doings.
Mr Shafee Abdullah added that by allowing himself to be cross-examined, Mr Najib is showing that he “has nothing to fear.” -/TISG