PUTRAJAYA: Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on Thursday (Sep 20) pleaded not guilty to 25 charges relating to abuse of power and money laundering over hundreds of millions of dollars of funds received in his personal bank account.
The charges include four counts of abuse of power involving RM2.3 billion (US$556.23 million) in state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Prosecutors also charged him with 21 counts of money laundering. These included nine counts of receiving illegal proceeds, five counts of using illegal proceeds and seven counts of transferring the proceeds to other entities, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim said in a statement.
The charges bring the total number against Najib to 32 as investigators ramp up a probe into how billions went missing from scandal-plagued 1MDB, which he founded and chaired.
Najib has denied all charges, which have piled up since he unexpectedly lost a general election in May to Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Prosecutors, describing the abuse of power charges, said Najib used his position as prime minister, finance minister and chairman of 1MDB to obtain funds totalling about RM2.3 billion between 2011 and 2014.
The money-laundering charges describe how Najib received RM2.1 billion from Tanore Finance Corp, which US authorities have said was used to siphon money from 1MDB.
"The charges made today will give me a chance to clear my name, that I am not a thief," Najib told reporters.
He was released after the judge set bail of RM3.5 million, to be paid by Sep 28.
Prosecutors said it was a matter of "national disgrace" for a head of state to be facing such charges.
"This is a case involving a man holding the highest elected office. And him, facing such serious charges, must face some consequences in the eyes of the court," lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said, arguing for a bail amount of RM5 million.
Najib tweeted about the case on Thursday evening, saying: “Only God knows what I’m going through." The truth, he wrote, will emerge.
Azam Baki, the deputy commissioner of the anti-graft agency, said more charges could be brought against Najib as well as other individuals.
“I don’t deny that there will be several other charges made against him (Najib),” he told reporters at the lobby of the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on Thursday.
When asked if Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor, could face charges, he said: "I'm not denying that."
Rosmah was questioned by investigators earlier this year and has been barred from leaving the country.
Najib's lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, described the charges against his client as "bizarre".
"Can you be accused of money laundering for returning funds? It doesn't make sense," he said.
Shafee himself was charged with money laundering last week after allegedly receiving RM9.5 million from Najib.
Both Malaysian and US authorities have described how Najib returned most of the money he received to the Tanore account he originally received the money from.
However, US authorities have said Tanore was controlled by an associate of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and held funds diverted from 1MDB.
On Thursday morning, Najib was taken to the commercial crime investigation department to record a police statement.
A video tweeted by Bernama showed him leaving the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's (MACC) headquarters at around 9am.
He arrived in court at about 1.50pm, with his lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, arriving about 10 minutes later.
Najib was arrested again on Wednesday in relation to the 1MDB investigation by the MACC and was taken into custody at the anti-graft agency's headquarters in Putrajaya.
His latest arrest is related to a central allegation in the long-running scandal - that huge sums from 1MDB went into his bank accounts before the 2013 election.
When reports about the bank transfers surfaced in 2015, they represented a turning point in the 1MDB scandal and dramatically raised pressure on Najib and his inner circle.
The attorney-general later cleared Najib of any wrongdoing, saying the money was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family, and closed down domestic investigations.
However, since returning for a second stint as premier, 93-year-old Mahathir has reopened investigations and vowed to bring Najib to justice.
Najib was previously slapped with seven charges - three for criminal breach of trust, three for money laundering and one for abuse of power - which are tied to an alleged transfer of RM42 million into his personal account from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
SRC had been the initial focus of Malaysian investigators as all the suspicious transactions involving it went through Malaysian entities.
Charges filed on Thursday regarding the RM2.6 billion deposit would be the first which are not SRC related.
The US Department of Justice has said a total of US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB through a complex web of transactions and fraudulent shell companies.
The case has been set for mention on Oct 4 before High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.