Malaysia’s Appeal Court will rule Wednesday whether to acquit ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak or uphold his conviction and 12-year jail sentence linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state investment fund that brought down his government in 2018.
Najib was found guilty by a high court in July 2020 of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving 42 million ringgit ($9.9 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
The ruling was part of the first of several corruption trials against Najib that are linked to the 1MDB scandal, which sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries. U.S. investigators alleged that over $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB and laundered by Najib’s associates.
The Appeal Court’s ruling will be delivered via a Zoom hearing after a defense lawyer was suspected to have contracted COVID-19.
If his conviction is upheld, Najib can still appeal to the Federal Court the country’s top court. If he is acquitted, prosecutors can do likewise.
Najib, who set up 1MDB shortly after taking office in 2009, has denied all wrongdoing and said the charges against him were political. He is out on bail pending the appeal. He has just returned from Singapore after the court approved his request earlier to travel to be with his daughter who has just given birth.
Despite his graft conviction, Najib, 68, remains politically influential and his United Malays National Organization party has rebounded from its 2018 shocking election ouster.
UMNO returned to government in March 2020 as part of a new coalition that took power from the reformist government that won 2018 elections. In August, UMNO took back the premiership after one of its leaders was appointed the country’s new prime minister following a power struggle.
Defense lawyers argue that Najib has been denied a fair trial because the high court judge made “serious misdirections” in the trial. Najib has said he wasn’t aware of the SRC money channeled into his bank accounts and that he was misled by Malaysian fugitive financier Low Taek Jho.
But the judge said Najib’s argument that he was duped by Low into believing the money was part of a donation by the Saudi royal family — to keep Najib from being suspicious of the 1MDB plundering — was far-fetched and a weak fabrication. Investigators have identified Low as the mastermind behind the looting of 1MDB and he remains at large.
Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials, some of which are ongoing. His wife is also on trial for graft.