Malaysia’s jailed ex-PM Najib back in court for more graft charges

 (Photo by Arif Kartono / AFP)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AFP)

Malaysia’s jailed former prime minister Najib Razak returned to court Thursday to face more charges linked to a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal at state fund 1MDB, two days after he began serving a 12-year prison term.

Najib, 69, was sent to prison Tuesday after the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest tribunal, upheld his sentence in the initial batch of charges linked to the scandal that brought down his government in 2018.

Najib was found guilty in that case of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10 million) from SRC International — a former unit of 1MDB — to his personal bank account.

Analysts said the prison term would likely shut the door to a political comeback for the former leader, who remains popular, especially among rural Malay voters.

Thursday’s hearing at the High Court pertained to four charges of abuse of power stemming from Najib’s alleged pilfering of 2.3 billion ringgit from the state investment fund, as well as 21 counts of money laundering involving the same amount.

He faces a maximum of 20 years in jail for abuse of power and up to 15 years for money laundering if convicted.

– Heavy security-

Najib, dressed in a dark suit and red tie, arrived at the court under heavy armed security. Half a dozen police motorcycles led a convoy of vehicles with darkly tinted windows, some with sirens wailing.

About 100 supporters gathered at the entrance of the courthouse chanting “Datuk Seri”, Najib’s honorific title.

He was brought into the courtroom via a private passage, and looked tired, with his head slightly lowered as he entered.

Holding a red folder, Najib sat quietly in the dock, a far cry from his chatty demeanour before the Federal Court upheld his jail sentence.

Najib and his ruling party were voted out in 2018 following allegations he and his associates stole billions of dollars from 1MDB and spent it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.

The scandal sparked investigations in the United States, Switzerland and Singapore, whose financial systems were believed to have been used to launder the money.

The US Justice Department has said more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2015 by high-level officials at the fund and their associates.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s prisons department in a Facebook post denied public speculation that Najib was being given special treatment in prison.

It said a viral photo showing Najib’s supposedly spacious jail cell with a TV, shelves, three beds and a table was “fake”, and urged the public to “stop the spread of fake information”.