Najib Razak went on trial on Monday in the third case related to the multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB, with prosecutors saying Malaysia‘s former prime minister tampered with a government audit of the fund in a bid to avoid civil and criminal proceedings.
Najib faces multiple corruption charges linked to the massive looting of 1MDB, which contributed to his coalition’s historic defeat in elections last year.
Prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said on Monday his team would show how Najib had abused his power to order the removal of material information from the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB in 2016 to cover up the truth.
Sri Ram said the meddling was to cover up the extent of his role and that of fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, in the affairs of the fund. He described Low as Najib’s “mirror image or alter ego.”
“There were passages in the report that caused concern to Najib, though they were true in fact. He took positive steps to have these passengers altered or removed,” Sri Ram said in is opening remarks.
He said Najib knew “if the truth emerged, he would be exposed to civil and criminal liabilities.”
Najib denies any wrongdoing and accuses Malaysia’s new government of seeking political vengeance. The former leader, whose father and uncles were the country’s second and third prime ministers respectively, could face years in prison if convicted.
His lawyers say he was misled by rogue bankers led by Jho Low, identified by the United States as the mastermind behind the scandal and wanted in both countries.
Najib is being jointly tried with Arul Kanda Kandasamy, who was appointed chief executive of 1MDB in 2015 and is accused of abetting him.
‘Three battle fronts’
Monday’s trial opened just days after another court ordered Najib to enter his defence in his first case, which relates to 1MDB unit, SRC. A second case started in August and is ongoing.
In all, Najib faces 42 charges of criminal breach of trust, graft, abuse of power and money laundering in five criminal cases over 1MDB that led to investigations in the US, Switzerland, Singapore and elsewhere.
His wife and stepson, several officials from his government, and the US banking firm Goldman Sachs also face charges related to the scandal.
US investigators say at least $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by Najib’s associates and laundered through layers of bank accounts in the US and other countries to finance Hollywood films including the Wolf of Wall Street, and buy hotels, a yacht, art works, jewellery and other luxury goods.
More than $700 million from the fund allegedly landed in Najib’s bank account.
Prosecutors earlier made slight amendments to the charge against Najib and Arul Kanda, adding specific passages in the audit report that were doctored.
Najib’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah appealed for more time, saying the defence team faces “three battle fronts and it is worse than Waterloo.” But the judge ordered the trial to proceed.