‘Mother of legal battles’ ahead as 1MDB trial kicks off

Former prime minister Najib Razak faces a laundry list of allegations regarding his role in state investment fund 1MDB. (Bloomberg pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The laundry list of allegations against former prime minister Najib Razak for his role in 1MDB points to a lengthy road ahead as his trial begins tomorrow.

The 42 counts of corruption and money laundering charges offer a window into the complex web of transactions surrounding 1MDB, the state fund that lies at the centre of globe-spanning investigations involving about US$4.5 billion of allegedly misappropriated funds. The probes have led to dozens of allegations against Najib, who has pleaded not guilty, while ensnaring Goldman Sachs Group Inc in its first criminal case.

“This is likely to be the mother of legal battles in Malaysian history,” said Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“It’s going to be tough. This growing array of charges also means it will take more time to wrap up the legal fight.”

The upcoming trial will focus on allegations linked to his oversight of funds held by 1MDB’s former unit SRC International. He faces one charge of receiving RM42 million (US$10.3 million) worth of bribes and three counts of criminal breach of trust.

He was subsequently charged with three more counts of related money-laundering charges. Najib was slapped with 21 counts of receiving, using or sending illicit funds as well as four counts of corruption involving US$681 million that appeared in his personal bank accounts.

The charges were linked to his alleged role in 1MDB deals, including a US$2 billion joint venture with PetroSaudi International Ltd, a RM10.6 billion bid for Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd and RM2.1 billion of funds from Tanore Finance Corp’s account at Falcon Private Bank in Singapore.

He was jointly charged with then-Treasury secretary-general Irwan Serigar related to RM6.6 billion of government payments to an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund as well as monies linked to rail and pipeline projects that involve Chinese companies. Najib faces six counts of criminal breach of trust for his alleged role.

Najib faces one count of corruption for allegedly tampering with a state audit report into 1MDB, with former 1MDB president Arul Kanda Kandasamy being accused of abetting him. He allegedly received a total of RM47 million of proceeds from illegal activities, resulting in three money laundering charges.

The tally amounts to five counts of corruption and nine counts of criminal breach of trust, which carry punishments of up to 20 years and a fine if he’s found guilty. Najib also faces 28 counts of money-laundering charges, some of which carry up to five years jail time and others up to 15 years, as well as fines.