Malaysian ex-leader Najib takes stand in 1MDB trial

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was a “victim” of the multi-million dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal that saw state coffers drained on his watch, his lawyer said yesterday, as the ex-premier gave evidence in his own fraud trial.

Huge sums were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, allegedly by the ex-prime minister and his cronies, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to artwork.

Najib’s coalition was ousted at the polls last year after six decades in power, largely due to public anger over the scandal.

He has since been arrested and hit with dozens of charges linked to the looting of the investment vehicle.

“Najib is not part of the conspiracy. He is a victim as much as others in the 1MDB scandal,” his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Adbullah told reporters. “The leader of the pack is Jho Low,” he said, referring to fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, a member of Najib’s inner circle who allegedly masterminded the elaborate fraud that spanned from the United States to Switzerland, Dubai and Singapore.

“The crux of my defence is the entire scheme is designed by Jho Low,” Shafee added.

Najib, 66, went on trial in April over the controversy, in a case centred on the transfer of RM42 million from former 1MDB unit SRC International into his bank accounts.

The former leader arrived at the court yesterday wearing a blue suit and held a brief prayer with supporters at the building’s steps. Defence proceedings began with Najib giving testimony under oath.

He will be cross-examined by prosecutors and is expected to be on the witness stand for around four days.

He began his testimony reading from a 243-page statement, recalling his long career in politics and ministerial posts he held since 1978, including the post of finance minister, and giving lengthy backgrounds on the setting up of 1MDB and SRC.

Defence lawyers had earlier said it would take two days for him to read the entire statement, but as his testimony went on, it appeared it would take longer.

Najib also sought to distance distance himself from Low, while his lawyer claimed the ex-leader was led astray.

“Jho Low has misled many people. Najib is one of them,” Shafee said.

Najib is facing four charges of corruption and three counts of money-laundering in the trial. Each charge of corruption carries a jail term of 20 years, and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.