Malaysian ex-PM Najib’s 1MDB trial delayed

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Former Malaysian premier Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s trial over a massive financial scandal that contributed to his government’s downfall was postponed yesterday, in a blow to slow-moving efforts to bring the disgraced politician to justice.

Najib had been due to go on trial today for the first time over allegations linked to his involvement in the looting of Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a fraud that reverberated around the world.

Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen by Najib and his cronies from 1MDB, which was set up to help develop Malaysia’s economy, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to expensive artworks. Najib, who allegedly received huge sums from the fund into his personal bank accounts, has denied any wrongdoing.

But the ex-leader’s lawyers filed an application for the trial to be delayed pending an appeal on a technical matter.

The Court of Appeal yesterday agreed to the postponement for an unspecified period, criminal lawyer on the prosecution team V Sithambaram told AFP.

“It won’t be delayed too long,” he said, adding he hoped the appeal would only take a week or two.

The scandal was a major factor in the shock poll loss of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May.

Since being ejected from power, Najib has been arrested repeatedly and hit with a total of 42 charges linked to 1MDB. He denies any wrongdoing.

The trial, originally scheduled to begin today, is on seven charges related to allegations Najib pocketed RM42 million (USD10.3 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.

It is just one of several trials Najib, who is free on bail, is expected to face over 1MDB and involves a fraction of the total purportedly stolen from the fund.

Getting legal proceedings underway will relieve pressure on the new government amid growing public unease about slow progress on 1MDB, although observers say that Najib’s defence team has been using delaying tactics.

Malaysia specialist at the University of Tasmania James Chin said the postponement was a “huge setback” for the new government led by Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.