Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was found guilty Tuesday in his first corruption trial linked to one of the world’s biggest financial scandals – the billion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
The British-educated Najib, who faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to the 1MDB fiasco, took power as Malaysia’s sixth prime minister in 2009. He set up 1MDB when he took office to ostensibly accelerate Malaysia’s economic development.
But the fund accumulated billions in debt, and U.S. investigators allege that at least $4.5 billion was stolen from it and laundered by Najib’s associates to finance Hollywood films and buy hotels, a luxury yacht, artwork, jewelry and other extravagances. More than $700 million from the fund allegedly landed in Najib’s bank accounts.
Najib’s wife and several officials from his party and the previous government have also been charged with graft.
Najib denies any wrongdoing and calls the prosecutions a political attack on him. The spectacular fall from grace of the political blue blood, whose father and uncle were Malaysia’s second and third prime ministers, was hailed in 2018 as a victory for democracy.
Najib’s first trial began in April 2019 over seven charges related to the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($9.8 million) from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit, into his bank accounts through intermediary companies.
He remains influential in his party and reinvented himself on social media from being an out-of-touch elitist to a working-class leader – an image he uses to promote his political comeback.
Najib’s second trial, the biggest and most complex, involving 25 graft charges over the alleged flow of $731 million of 1MDB funds into his bank accounts, is ongoing.