Thu, Apr 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Former Malaysian PM’s trial begins

GRAFT ACCUSATIONS:Najib Razak was greeted by a small group of supporters as he arrived, and they bowed their heads in a prayer before he went to the courtroom

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak yesterday appeared in court for the start of his corruption trial, exactly 10 years after he was first elected to office only to suffer a spectacular defeat last year on allegations he pilfered millions of dollars from a state investment fund.

The trial was originally due to start in February, but was delayed by procedural matters.

Najib’s lawyers filed an urgent motion to challenge the charges, which include criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power.

The Malaysian High Court judge said he would hear the application at a later date and ordered the trial to proceed.

Ten years ago, Najib became Malaysia’s sixth prime minister, but anger over the 1MDB investment fund scandal led to his electoral loss in May last year.

US investigators say more than US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by associates of Najib between 2009 and 2014.

They say the ill-gotten gains were laundered through layers of bank accounts in the US and other nations to finance Hollywood films and buy hotels, a luxury yacht, art works, jewelry and other extravagances.

About US$700 million from the fund that Najib set up for Malaysia’s economic development allegedly landed in his own bank account.

One of only a few Southeast Asian leaders to be arraigned after losing office, Najib has denied any wrongdoing.

The 65-year-old was greeted by a small group of supporters as he arrived at the courthouse. They all bowed their heads in a short prayer before Najib went to the courtroom.

The trial is the first of several against Najib, who has been charged with 42 counts of criminal breach of trust, graft, abuse of power and money laundering in one of Malaysia’s biggest criminal proceedings.

His wife, Rosmah Mansor, has also been charged with money laundering and tax evasion linked to 1MDB. She has also pleaded not guilty and her trial has not been set.

Najib, whose father and uncle were Malaysia’s second and third prime ministers respectively, has fought back with a political makeover on social media that aims to transform his image from an out-of-touch elitist to a leader of the working class.

A Malay-language catchphrase translating to “What’s to be ashamed about, my boss?” was coined while he was campaigning in a by-election last month and has become his new rallying cry.

Expensive tailored suits have been replaced by hoodies and jeans.

A picture Najib posted on social media showing himself posing on a Yamaha motorcycle with his new “’no-shame” meme resonated with many young Malaysians disenchanted by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government.

In another offbeat music video that he uploaded on social media, Najib criticized the new government as “liars” and crooned about the “slander and revenge” against him in a Malay-language rendition of the 1970s R&B soul hit Kiss and Say Goodbye by the Manhattans.

He posts a dozen messages daily, mostly mocking the new government and its policies, and touching on the plight of the needy.

Despite his smiles and “cool” public persona, Najib could face years in prison if convicted.

Once a towering figure in politics, Najib has fallen from grace swiftly since his historic electoral loss, which led to the first change of government since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

The new government soon after it took office reopened investigations into 1MDB that had been stifled under Najib.

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