Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak and former treasury chief charged with criminal breach of trust involving government funds
- Najib is already facing 32 money laundering, graft and breach of trust charges over transactions linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad
- Several former high-ranking officials have been charged with suspected graft since the election victory of a coalition led by Mahathir Mohamad
Malaysia’s embattled former prime minister Najib Razak, already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in jail over dozens of graft charges, was on Thursday slapped with six new counts of criminal breach of trust – this time unwillingly dragging an otherwise low-profile Middle Eastern fund into the picture.
Najib and his one-time top treasury official Irwan Serigar Abdullah were charged with six counts each of criminal breach of trust involving some 6.6 billion ringgit (US$1.6 billion).
Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah told reporters four of the charges had to do with government payments to the Abu Dhabi state investor, International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
The charges do not imply any wrongdoing on the part of IPIC – and Shafee said his client too would be easily acquitted.
“As far as these six charges are concerned, we are looking forward to going to trial,” he was quoted as saying in The Star newspaper. “The charges are foolish because it calls into question the executive decision-making process of the minister of finance and the secretary general.”
Najib, prime minister until the May 9 general election that toppled his government, was concurrently finance minister while Irwan served as the top bureaucrat at the finance ministry.
The latest charges pertain to the supposed diversion of government funds to settle a debt dispute between the Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and IPIC.
Najib’s government in 2017 struck a deal to pay IPIC some US$1.2 billion after 1MDB defaulted on bonds guaranteed by the Middle Eastern fund.
Najib’s legal woes stem from 1MDB – from where prosecutors believe some US$4.5 billion or more was looted during his tenure. His earlier 32 charges relate to the financial scandal at the fund and Najib faces a trial for those charges in February.
Thursday’s charges allege Irwan and Najib committed “criminal breach of trust” with 220 million ringgit of government funds meant for Kuala Lumpur International Airport Berhad, 1.3 billion ringgit meant for a subsidy and cash aid programme and 3.3 billion ringgit of other government funds.
Shafee said Najib did not benefit from the dealings.
“These were funds that were initially allocated for a purpose, but on priority was revised, in the face of urgency and dire straits the nation was placed into. For the purposes of settlement of the IPIC issue, an executive decision had to be undertaken very honestly,” Shafee told the court.
Speaking to the media late in the afternoon, Najib said: “What we did was in the interest of the nation.”
Earlier this week, with speculation mounting that he was facing charges linked to the IPIC settlement, the former premier urged the current government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to make public the settlement agreement he had forged with the Emiratis over the debt dispute.
He said the agreement involved IPIC repaying 1MDB US$3.5 billion and described the pact as “swapping assets with debts”.
Government insiders have scoffed at his statements over the matter. In Thailand for a bilateral visit, 93-year-old Mahathir on Thursday said there were “many more” charges likely to be filed over the 1MDB scandal.
“What we are seeing today, of course, are charges being made against several people, but there are many more,” he said. “We can’t bring every one to court in one go. We have to take [them] one by one, and the more serious one is the former prime minister [Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak].”
He added: [The Najib government] committed a lot of wrong things. As usual, when you break the law, you face the consequences.”
Along with Najib and Irwan, others who have been charged with graft include former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press