Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been charged with three counts of money laundering related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of a state investment fund, adding to his troubles just three months after his stunning electoral defeat.
Najib stood calmly in the dock on Wednesday as the charges were read to him. Last month he pleaded not guilty to abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust.
Najib, 64, has accused Malaysia’s new government of seeking “political vengeance” and has vowed to clear his name in his trial.
All of the charges against him involve the transfer of 42 million ringgit (USD 10.3 million) into his bank accounts from SRC International, a former unit of the 1MDB fund that international investigators say was looted of billions by Najib’s associates. Each of those charges has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Each money-laundering count carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of not less than five times the sum laundered.
Najib set up 1MDB when he took power in 2009 for the stated purpose of promoting economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts and is being investigated in the US and several other countries for alleged cross-border embezzlement and money laundering.
After leaked documents exposed the scandal, Najib sacked critics in his government, muzzled the media and quashed investigations.
Public anger led to the defeat of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May 9 elections and ushered in the first change of power since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.
The new government reopened investigations into 1MDB that were stifled under Najib and barred him and his wife from leaving the country. Police have also seized jewelery and valuables valued at more than 1.1 billion ringgit (USD 270.2 million) from properties linked to Najib