Malaysia ex-PM, allies charged in latest graft cases

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 25 2018 05:35 PM

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives in court in Kuala Lumpur, October 4, 2018. Lai Seng Sin, Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR- Malaysia's toppled leader, an ex-finance ministry official and a former spy chief were charged with misusing public funds Thursday, the latest corruption cases against figures from the scandal-plagued old regime.

Former prime minister Najib Razak has now been hit with 38 charges since losing power, most related to allegations that he and his cronies plundered vast sums from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The scandal played a major part in prompting voters to oust his coalition at elections in May after six decades in power and elect a reformist alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib was jointly charged in a Kuala Lumpur court with Mohamad Irwan Serigar Abdullah -- former treasury secretary-general, a key finance ministry position -- with misusing 6.6 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion) of public money.

They were charged with six counts of criminal breach of trust over offenses that allegedly took place between December 2016 and December 2017.

They denied all the charges. Four of those related to 1MDB's dealings with Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund IPIC, the anti-corruption agency said.

The others were over payments related to two Chinese-backed infrastructure projects -- a major rail link and the construction of gas pipelines, Najib's lawyer Shafee Abdullah said.

He insisted Najib had simply been making payments to avoid defaulting on debts, which would have been disastrous for the economy.

"My conscience is clear," Najib insisted after being charged, "the decisions taken were taken for the interests of the nation."

The Chinese-financed projects have been suspended by Mahathir's government, which suspects the deals were dubious and aimed at raising cash quickly to pay 1MDB debts.

The fund slid into a massive debt hole as huge sums of money were allegedly stolen and used to buy everything from a super-yacht, to high-end real estate and pricey artworks.

The US Department of Justice, which is seeking to seize assets allegedly bought with looted 1MDB money in America, alleges that a total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.

Hasanah Abdul Hamid, the former head of a shadowy spy agency which worked directly under Najib, was charged with one count of criminal breach of trust. She is accused of pocketing $12.1 million of public money in the run-up to May's election.

She denies the accusation. Her lawyer Shaharudin Ali insisted her case was not linked to 1MDB, state news agency Bernama reported.

Najib and his two allies are free on bail.

The former prime minister's luxury-loving wife, Rosmah Mansor, and the new leader of his party and long-time lieutenant, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, have also been arrested and charged with corruption in recent weeks.