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.


Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

Updated 19 February 2020

Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

  • Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates
  • WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson: He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates

LONDON: Jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no longer being kept in solitary confinement and his health is improving, his spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Tuesday.
Assange, 48, is in Belmarsh high-security prison in London, fighting an extradition request from the United States where he faces 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
His supporters had expressed concern about the state of his health after he appeared confused during a court hearing in October, struggling to recall his age and name and saying he was unable to think properly.
Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates after his legal team and prisoners complained that his treatment was unfair, Hrafnsson said.
“I saw him about 10 days ago — he has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison to get him out of isolation,” Hrafnsson said ahead of an extradition hearing that starts next week.
Australian-born Assange made global headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later angered the United States by publishing caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
Assange has consistently presented himself as a champion of free speech being persecuted for exposing abuses of power. But his critics paint him as a dangerous figure complicit in Russian efforts to undermine the West.
He fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning about allegations of sex crimes which have since been dropped. He spent seven years holed up in the embassy until Ecuador decided to stop giving him refuge and he was dragged out last May.
Earlier, a group of doctors representing 117 physicians and psychologists from 18 nations called in a letter for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.”
His father, John Shipton, said Assange’s long confinement indoors had damaged his health and feared that sending his son to the US would be akin to a “death sentence.”
“His situation is dire, he has had nine years of ceaseless psychological torture where false accusations are constantly being made,” he told reporters.