Legal

Malaysia Court Convicts Former PM Over 1MDB Charges

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, 29 July 2020

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The former PM, who lost power in the 2018 national elections, has denied wrongdoing. The conviction is the first of a series of cases against him over the 1MDB drama that has touched financial centres around the world.

A Malaysia court has found former Prime Minister Najib Razak guilty of money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust in connection with the 1MDB scandal which has hit financial centres in Singapore, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the US. A few days before, Goldman Sachs settled a $3.9 billion case with Malaysia over the case.

Media reports said that yesterday’s verdict against Najib was the first in a set of cases against him. Najib was forced out of office in national elections in 2018, with corruption being a major issue in that case.

Najib pleaded not guilty and has denied wrongdoing.

US investigators say that more than $4.5 billion was stolen between 2009 and 2014 and laundered through a variety of bank accounts. In a bizarre twist, some of this money financed the Hollywood film, The Wolf of Wall Street – about a financial crook.

According to the Wall Street Journal and other publications, the Malaysia court’s decision yesterday centred on claims that 42 million Malaysian ringgit, or around $10 million, was transferred from a former 1MDB unit called SRC International Sdn Bhd. into Najib’s personal bank accounts. Najib, who was present in court for the proceedings, was found guilty of all seven charges against him, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of 15 to 20 years.

Reports said that Najib had a close relationship with Jho Low, a Malaysian financier and the alleged architect of the fraud that spanned many countries. Low is still at large. The US Justice Department has stripped Low of his custom-made yacht, a stake in New York’s Park Lane Hotel and $700 million in other assets, in civil-forfeiture settlements in which Low admitted no wrongdoing.

The judge rejected Najib’s defence that he was misled by Low and was under the impression that the money flowing into his account was a gift from a Saudi royal.

One of the biggest money laundering cases ever, the saga led to probes in financial centres worldwide. Singapore ejected Falcon Private Bank and BSI from the city-state about four years ago. The case is also a stark reminder of the scale of global money laundering.

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