By Rozanna Latiff
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arrived at a Kuala Lumpur court on Tuesday to hear a verdict in the first of several trials he faces over a multi-billion dollar graft scandal at 1MDB, a state fund he founded.
Najib, who was voted out in a historic 2018 election, faces dozens of criminal charges over allegations that $4.5 billion (3.49 billion pounds) was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Prosecutors allege more than $1 billion of the funds made its way into his personal accounts.
A Malaysian high court will deliver a verdict in the first case over seven charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power against Najib for allegedly illegally receiving nearly $10 million from former 1MDB unit SRC International. He has plead not guilty.
Court proceedings are expected to start at 0200 GMT.
The former premier arrived in court to shouts of “long live Najib” by hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside.
Wearing a mask and flanked by top leaders of his party, Najib offered prayers just outside the courtroom.
“This is my chance to clear my name,” Najib said in a Facebook (NASDAQ:) post on Monday night.
“Whatever the decision tomorrow at the high court, it does not end here,” he said, adding that both sides would appeal any decision at the federal court.
Najib’s lawyers say he was misled by Malaysian financier Jho Low and other 1MDB officials into believing that the funds banked into his accounts were donated by the Saudi royal family, rather than misappropriated from SRC as prosecutors have alleged. Low denies wrongdoing.
If convicted, the former premier could be punished with hefty fines and jail terms of up to 15 or 20 years on each charge.
It is unclear if he will be sentenced immediately if found guilty. His lawyers have said sentencing could be delayed or suspended due to the complex nature of the case.
The implementation of the sentence can also be stayed if Najib pursues an appeal at the federal court.
Allegations of corruption over 1MDB have hung over Najib for more than five years. But the criminal charges came only after his defeat in the 2018 election when his successor Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations.
The closely-watched case is seen as a test of Malaysia’s efforts to root out corruption, after Najib’s party was returned to power in February as part of an alliance led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
The verdict could have far reaching political implications.
A guilty verdict could boost Muhyiddin’s credibility with the public, but weaken his coalition, which counts Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as its biggest component – and potentially trigger snap polls.
An acquittal could turn public sentiment against Muhyiddin, and encourage the opposition to challenge the ruling coalition’s two-seat majority in parliament.
The court’s decision comes just days after Malaysia reached a $3.9 billion deal with Goldman Sachs (N:) over its role in helping 1MDB raise money.
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