Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak's trial on corruption charges related to a massive financial scandal that led to his shock election defeat will start in February, a court said today.
Najib, 65, will stand trial for criminal breach of trust, money laundering and power abuse linked to billions of dollars allegedly looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
The former leader, who is free on bail, has been hit with seven charges so far, including three for money laundering lodged on Wednesday over claims he pocketed 42 million ringgit (USD 10.3 million) from a former unit of 1MDB.
These are in addition to the charges he faced last month after he was first arrested -- three for criminal breach of trust and a separate count that he abused his position to take the money. Najib has denied all the charges.
Malaysia's new government, under Najib's 93-year-old former mentor Mahathir Mohamad, is probing the corruption allegations involving 1MDB -- which was set up and overseen by Najib -- in an audacious fraud that spanned the globe.
State prosecutors said they expect to call around 50 witnesses. Najib is facing a long time behind bars if found guilty -- the money-laundering charges carry maximum jail terms of 15 years each, while the other four charges carry sentences of 20 years each.
The money-laundering charges allege 42 million ringgit stemming from illegal activities was transferred to Najib's bank accounts between December 2014 and February 2015.
All the charges relate to fund transfers from SRC International, an energy company that was originally a subsidiary of 1MDB.
Najib, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and his allies are accused of using the plundered money to buy everything from US real estate to artworks and a luxury yacht that was recently handed over to Malaysia.
"I am confident of a fair trial for my client, but my client thinks this is a political prosecution," Muhammad Shafee told reporters.
The US Department of Justice, which is seeking to recover items allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB cash in America, estimates that $4.5 billion in total was looted from the fund.
Following Najib's election loss in May, police seized a vast trove of items -- including expensive handbags and jewellery -- from properties linked to him with an estimated value of up to USD 273 million.
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