KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak was found guilty of corruption on Tuesday in the first trial linked to a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The former prime minister who had led the country for a decade before losing the 2018 election, sat silently in the dock and offered no visible reaction as a judge read out a guilty verdict on all charges.
A masked Najib recited a brief prayer, flanked by leaders of his political party, before he entered the dock. The court is expected to deliver a sentence after the judge rejected pleas by Najib’s lawyers to delay the sentencing until next week. The corruption charges carry hefty fines and jail terms up to 15 or 20 years.
Najib has suffered a dramatic slide in fortunes since he was first charged in 2018, after he led his National Front ruling coalition to its first election defeat in six decades since independence. The seven charges carry hefty fines and jail terms of up to 20 years.
Najib has denied wrongdoing and pledged to appeal in Malaysia’s Federal Court. He had faced a public backlash over accusations of rampant corruption in his administration and his family’s luxurious lifestyle.
In the weeks after the election loss, authorities seized hundreds of luxury handbags, jewellery and millions of dollars of cash during raids on properties linked to his family. Najib was later arrested and a raft of corruption charges linked to 1MDB followed.
Before his arrest, Najib told a news agency there was nothing improper about the seized luxury items or cash, which authorities had valued at up to $275 million. “I didn’t benefit from 1MDB, because I believe that 1MDB was created to do something good for the country,” he said.
Najib has yet to be sentenced but unless his conviction is overturned, he could end up in a cell at a prison complex on the outskirts of the Kuala Lumpur that houses common criminals.
Najib was the eldest son of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein and made his political debut aged 23. He was the youngest person elected to parliament and also one of the youngest to be appointed a federal deputy minister, and later the youngest to head his home state of Penang as chief minister.
In 2009, he succeeded Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who stepped down a year after a bruising election that cost their ruling coalition a two thirds majority in parliament.
Najib struck a reformist tone, pushing for liberal economic policies and repealing colonial-era security laws in a bid to shed the perception of a government unwilling to brook dissent. Just two years after the 2013 election, the first signs of scandal began to surface at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Najib acted quickly to try and stop the fallout but it was too late and voters threw out his ruling coalition. A swift crackdown followed against Najib and his family by veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad who led a loose opposition pact to power that year.
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