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Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Former Prime Minister, Found Guilty in Graft Trial

2020-07-28 05:45:40
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BANGKOK — A Malaysian court on Tuesday found Najib Razak, the country’s former prime minister, guilty of corruption on charges stemming from the disappearance of $4.5 billion from a government investment fund he once controlled.

The trial, the first of several related to the pilfering of funds from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, was seen as a test of whether Malaysia’s new government, led by Mr. Najib’s allies, would uphold the rule of law or instead attempt to remove the taint of political scandal that brought him down two years ago.

Mr. Najib was found guilty on all seven charges of abuse of power, breach of trust and money laundering, but experts said the verdict could be overturned on appeal.

The missing money was traced by prosecutors to the purchases of a megayacht and a Picasso painting, as well as an investment in the Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wall Street.” About $1 billion of the money ended up in Mr. Najib’s personal bank accounts, creating a national scandal that led to the ouster of his party, the United Malays National Organization, in elections two year ago.

The court also rejected the argument that Mr. Najib received the money as a gift from a Saudi royal and that he was unaware of the balance in his own account. “It would be extraordinary that the accused as the then-prime minister and finance minister did not know it,” said Judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali, who delivered the verdict and presided over the 14-month trial in the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania and an expert on Malaysian politics, said it was likely that the guilty verdict would be overturned on appeal.

“People should not be celebrating, because in the Malaysian context, many of the judgments in these political cases get reversed in the appeals court,” he said. “I expect Najib to appeal and he will probably win the appeal. In the long term, I expect Najib to get away with it as long as UMNO is in power.”

Mr. Chin noted that UMNO has been in power for all but 22 months of the past six decades and, as a result, has been responsible for naming nearly all of the country’s judges.

In May, prosecutors dropped money-laundering charges against Mr. Najib’s stepson, the Hollywood producer Riza Aziz, who was accused of receiving $248 million in government funds.

The producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Mr. Riza was allowed to walk away with $83 million under the terms of the agreement with the new attorney general, Idrus Harun.

Last week, the new government and Goldman Sachs reached a $3.9 billion settlement over the company’s role in the scandal. The previous government had sought more than $2.7 billion in fines and had charged more than a dozen executives with fraud. Under the settlement, criminal charges against the bank and the executives were dismissed.

The authorities announced that they were investigating Al Jazeera for sedition, defamation and violating communications laws. The broadcaster said seven of its staff members have been questioned by the police.

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