Malaysia’s disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak pleaded not guilty to all charges against him as he went on trial Wednesday over a multi-billion-dollar fraud, almost a year after his shock election loss.
The 65-year-old faced the first of several trials over his alleged involvement in the looting of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, a state investment vehicle established to develop the economy of the Southeast Asian nation.
The former premier and his cronies are accused of plundering billions of dollars from the fund and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to artworks and a luxury yacht.
He had been tipped to win another term in office easily last year and extend his coalition’s six-decade stranglehold on power, only to be soundly defeated by his former boss, Mahathir Mohamad, who rode a wave of public anger over 1MDB to the premiership.
In the months that followed, once-dormant investigations into the controversy were relaunched and Najib was hit with dozens of corruption charges linked to the plundering of the fund.
A small crowd of supporters was waiting for Najib as he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur court ahead of his trial, and he prayed with them for a few minutes before entering the building to shouts of “Long Live Najib”.
Looking relaxed in the dock, he denied seven corruption and money- laundering charges related to the alleged theft of 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit. It is just a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB that allegedly ended up in his bank accounts.
Opening the prosecution, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas told the High Court that it was the “first trial in our courts against a former prime minister, who for nearly a decade occupied the most powerful office in the land and wielded near absolute power.
“Such privilege carries with it enormous responsibility.
“The accused is not above the law and his prosecution and this trial should serve as precedents for all future holders of this august office,” he added.