KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian former Prime Minister Najib Razak pleaded not guilty Thursday to 25 fresh charges of abuse of power and money laundering over the multimillion-dollar looting of a state investment fund.
Najib was detained by the anti-graft agency Wednesday over the transfer of USD$681 million into his bank account, and was transferred into police custody Thursday hours before his court appearance.
Wearing a blue suit and tie, the bespectacled Najib was calm as he pleaded not guilty in a crowded courtroom to four counts of abusing power to receive gratification from 2011-2014. He will also stand trial on another 21 charges of receiving, using and transferring illicit funds linked to the 1MDB state fund.
He faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of abusing power under the anti-corruption law, and up to five years for each of the 21 charges under the anti-money laundering act.
In July and August, Najib was charged with seven counts of criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering, just months after his shocking electoral defeat. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is due to start next year.
Najib set up 1MDB when he took power in 2009 to promote economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts and is being investigated in the U.S. and several other countries for alleged cross-border embezzlement and money laundering.
The scandal first broke in 2015 when leaked documents showed that $681 million was transferred into Najib’s bank account, leading to massive street rallies calling on him to resign. Najib fired critics in his government, including a deputy prime minister and the attorney-general, and muzzled the media to try to survive the fallout.
A new attorney-general cleared Najib in January 2016, saying the money in his account was a political donation from Saudi Arabia’s royal family and most of it had been returned — an explanation that was met with widespread skepticism.
U.S investigators say Najib’s associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund, some of which landed in Najib’s bank account.
Public anger over the scandal eventually led to the ouster of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May 9 polls that ushered in the first change of power since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.
The new government reopened investigations stifled under Najib and barred him and his wife from leaving the country. Police also seized jewelry and hundreds of handbags and other valuables estimated at more than 1.1 billion ringgit ($273 million) from properties linked to Najib.
Police have said investigations show that $972 million had been transferred into Najib’s bank account from three companies linked to 1MDB.
Najib, 65, has accused Malaysia’s new government under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of seeking political vengeance and vowed to clear his name at the trial.
Story: Eileen Ng