'Victim' Najib takes stand in corruption trial

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 4 Dec 2019

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was a "victim" of the multi-million dollar 1MDB scandal that saw state coffers drained, his lawyer said yesterday, as the ex-premier gave evidence in his own fraud trial.

Huge sums were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, allegedly by the ex-prime minister and members of his inner circle. 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 faces four charges of corruption and three counts of money-laundering in the trial. Each charge of corruption carries a maximum jail term of 20 years and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.

"Najib is not part of the conspiracy," his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said. "He is a victim as much as others in the 1MDB scandal.

"The crux of my defense is the entire scheme is designed by Jho Low," he added, referring to fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, a member of Najib's inner circle who allegedly planned the elaborate fraud.

Najib, 66, went on trial in April, in a case focused on the transfer of 42 million ringgit (HK$78.7 million) from former 1MDB unit SRC International into his bank accounts.

Defense proceedings began with Najib yesterday giving testimony under oath. He will be cross-examined by prosecutors and is expected to be on the witness stand for around four days.

Prosecutors have argued that Najib wielded huge influence over SRC International and knew that stolen money was being transferred into his accounts.

The case is one of several 1MDB-linked trials investigating Najib's conduct. The biggest opened in August, centering on allegations he illicitly obtained over US$500 million (HK$3.9 billion) from the fund.

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