Malaysian ex-leader Najib takes stand in 1MDB trial

The high court judge last month said Najib Razak wielded ‘overarching authority and power’ and took actions for personal gains. (File/Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2019

Malaysian ex-leader Najib takes stand in 1MDB trial

  • Najib is defending himself against seven charges of abuse of power, breach of trust and money laundering

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was a “victim” of the multi-million dollar 1MDB scandal that saw state coffers drained on his watch, his lawyer said Tuesday, as the ex-premier gave evidence in his own fraud trial.

Huge sums were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, allegedly by the ex-prime minister and his cronies, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to artwork.

Najib’s coalition was ousted at the polls last year after six decades in power, largely due to public anger over the scandal.

He has since been arrested and hit with dozens of charges linked to the looting of the investment vehicle.

“Najib is not part of the conspiracy. He is a victim as much as others in the 1MDB scandal,” his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Adbullah told reporters.

“The leader of the pack is Jho Low,” he said, referring to fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, a member of Najib’s inner circle who allegedly masterminded the elaborate fraud that spanned from the United States to Switzerland, Dubai and Singapore.

“The crux of my defense is the entire scheme is designed by Jho Low,” Shafee added.

Najib, 66, went on trial in April over the controversy, in a case centered on the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from former 1MDB unit SRC International into his bank accounts.

The former leader arrived at the court on Tuesday wearing a blue suit and held a brief Muslim prayer with supporters at the building’s steps.

Defense proceedings began with Najib giving testimony under oath. He will be cross-examined by prosecutors and is expected to be on the witness stand for around four days.

He began his testimony reading from a 243-page statement, recalling his long career in politics and ministerial posts he held since 1978, including the post of finance minister, and giving lengthy backgrounds on the setting up of 1MDB and SRC.

Defense lawyers had earlier said it would take two days for him to read the entire statement, but as his testimony went on, it appeared it would take longer.

Najib also sought to distance himself from Low, while his lawyer claimed the ex-leader was led astray.

“Jho Low has misled many people. Najib is one of them,” Shafee said.

Najib is facing four charges of corruption and three counts of money-laundering in the trial. Each charge of corruption carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.

Prosecutors have argued that Najib wielded huge influence over the unit and knew that stolen money was being funneled from it into his accounts.

But in an opening statement in court before Najib took the stand, defense lawyer Shafee said they will prove that Najib “did not misappropriate funds... either directly or indirectly” and “did not act dishonestly.”

The amount transferred to his account “was done without his knowledge or involvement” as the transactions “were being manipulated by third parties without his knowledge and approval,” Shafee said.

“Ultimately, we will pray for an order that (Najib) be acquitted and discharged of all seven charges,” he said.

The case is one of several 1MDB-linked trials investigating Najib’s conduct. The biggest opened in August, centering on allegations he illicitly obtained over $500 million from the fund.

US authorities, who are also investigating the fraud as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believe $4.5 billion was looted from the fund.


France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

Updated 18 January 2020

France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

  • French President Emmanuel Macron due in Berlin on Sunday for the start of crisis summit
  • Priority is ceasefire and negotiations between government and Libyan army, says diplomatic source

French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Berlin on Sunday to take part in an international summit that aims to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya.

Ahead of the gathering, a French diplomatic source on Friday said the hope is that an international consensus can be reached to stabilize the situation, despite the differing goals of the participants. With a growing number of nations and groups actively involved in Libya, their goals need to be clarified, he added. France is participating in part to follow up on previous commitments it has made, he said, which need to be reconfirmed given the current volatile situation.

The source said that in light of the power struggle that has developed between the national unity government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army, commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which occupies about 80 per cent of the country, Macron will raise a number of issues, including: the necessity of ending the fighting between both sides in and around Tripoli, the only part of the country Haftar does not control; and the need for Al-Sarraj and Haftar to agree to negotiations within a framework agreed by the Berlin summit.

In addition to France, the participants in the peace conference include the US, Russia, China, the UK, Germany, Italy, the UAE, Turkey and a number of other African and Arab nations and organizations.

Despite the volatile backdrop against which it takes place, there are hopes that a peaceful solution is still possible if an internationally brokered agreement can be reached for a ceasefire and reconciliation process. Otherwise, it is feared Libya will become another battleground for warring regional and global powers.

The French diplomatic source said the conditions for a ceasefire were set by the UN Security Council in August last year, but that Russia, Turkey and Al-Sarraj have added additional conditions that are unacceptable to Haftar. The view from Paris, he added, is that any attempt to negotiate a ceasefire must be on realistic terms, and the priority is to prevent any escalation in fighting or expansion of the forces at war in the country. With this in mind, the announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is sending troops to Tripoli is very worrying, he added.

The source said that if the peace effort is to succeed, all international powers need to take responsibility for their role in reaching a consensus to ensure stability, regardless of which side they support in the conflict.

He also called on all nations to respect an existing UN embargo on the supply of arms to the warring factions in Libya. The country is at risk of falling prey to many disruptive influences, he added, and the fear is that should the efforts to kick start peace negotiations fail, the flood gates will open and arms and troops will pour in. The country is on the brink of a total collapse that can only be prevented by a ceasefire, followed by an agreed political process to negotiate peace, he said.