KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will go on trial on Feb. 12 next year on charges linked to a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a court ruled on Friday.
Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been barred from leaving the country after his decade in power ended in a shock election defeat in May, and the new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, relaunched an investigation into 1MDB, which Najib founded.
Najib was arrested last month and has been charged with seven offences including criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering.
The former prime minister has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and has been granted bail.
Judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali said in a pre-trial hearing on Friday the trial would begin on Feb. 12, and gave the prosecution until March 29 to present its case.
Najib faces years in prison if found guilty.
All of the charges against Najib relate to an alleged transfer of 42 million ringgit (£8 million) into his personal bank account from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
This, however, represents a small fraction of the $4.5 billion the U.S. Department of Justice has said was misappropriated from 1MDB, which is being investigated in at least six countries, including Malaysia.
The judge also dismissed a motion for a gag order brought by Najib’s lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, to stop discussion of the case among the public and in the media.
Shafee had said his client was being subjected to trial by the media.
The judge said greater emphasis should be given to the right of freedom of speech, and there was no need for a gag order as comments on the case were already regulated by existing laws.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel)