By Rozanna Latiff
KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, on Monday faces the biggest of five trials linked to a multi-billion-dollar scam at state fund 1MDB, although lawyers are seeking a delay to allow time for the completion of a previous trial.
Najib, who lost a general election last year, has been hit with 42 criminal charges of graft and money laundering at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and other state entities.
1MDB, founded by Najib in 2009, is being investigated in at least six countries, and the U.S. Department of Justice says about $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.
In his second trial at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, Najib will have to fight 21 charges of money laundering and four of abuse of power for receiving illegal transfers of about 2.3 billion ringgit ($550.8 million) between 2011 and 2014.
He has pleaded not guilty and says the charges are politically motivated.
On Friday, prosecutors handed to the defence thousands of pages of documents related to the case, government lawyer Ahmad Akram Gharib told Reuters.
“Under the rules, a trial can only begin at least two weeks after all the related documents are handed over,” he said, adding that about 60 witnesses were expected to be called in the second case.
The first trial, which began in April and revolves around former 1MDB unit SRC International, was adjourned on Aug. 14 after Najib contracted an eye infection, halting the cross-examination of the prosecution’s final witness.
That case is also expected to resume on Monday, and lawyers from both sides hope the second trial can be delayed to allow prosecutors to wrap up the first.
“The accused can only be at one place at a time,” Najib’s lawyer, Harvinderjit Singh, said. “We are hoping the judge will allow us some leeway in this matter.”
After the shock election loss, Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor were barred from leaving Malaysia and their luxurious lifestyle came under scrutiny, with the discovery of nearly $300 million worth of goods and cash at properties linked to him.
Rosmah, known for her designer handbags and jewellery, has also been charged with corruption. She has pleaded not guilty.
Najib’s lawyers say he had no knowledge of the transfers into his accounts and was misled by Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and SRC’s former chief executive, Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, who are both at large.
Low, who faces charges in the United States and Malaysia over his alleged central role in the 1MDB case, has consistently denied wrongdoing. A spokesman for Low did not respond to a request for comment.
Nik Faisal, who has never publicly commented on the matter, could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)