KUALA LUMPUR,July 4: Just eight weeks after losing an election, former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was charged on Wednesday with abuse of power and criminal breach of trust in an investigation over billions of dollars missing from a state fund.
Najib pleaded not guilty, but the charges, the first of their kind faced by a Malaysian premier, and his court appearance were the culmination of a swift and stunning downfall for the man who led the country for nearly a decade.
“I believe in my innocence and this is the best chance to clear my name,” Najib told reporters outside the courtroom after being released on bail of 1 million ringgit ($247,000).
Crowds of journalists and onlookers jostled for a glance of Najib, and some of his backers chanted and held up placards in support of a man whose father, Malaysia’s second prime minister, is held in high regard.
National television networks broadcast live images of Najib’s convoy moving through morning rush-hour traffic to the court in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, an extraordinary spectacle few could have imagined before the May 9 election upset.
Najib thwarted corruption allegations for three years after revelations in 2015 that hundreds of millions of dollars from troubled state fund 1MDB were diverted to his personal accounts.
But his life has unravelled since the election defeat by his one-time mentor and the country’s most seasoned politician, Mahathir Mohamad, who returned to the prime minister’s office he occupied from 1981 to 2003.
Mahathir reopened an investigation into the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and barred Najib from leaving the country. Wednesday’s charges fulfilled an election promise to prosecute Najib, whom he called a “thief” during the campaign.
Najib has been charged with abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust, each of the four charges carrying prison terms of up to 20 years. The abuse of power charge also carries a fine of five times the “value of gratification”. (Agencies)