KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was charged in court on Wednesday (Jul 4) in a probe linked to how billions of dollars went missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund he founded.
Najib, 64, was charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of using his position for gratification. The offences were allegedly carried out between 2011 and 2015.
In court, the former leader appeared tired and hung his head often during proceedings.
After the charges were read to him one by one, Najib pleaded not guilty to all charges and said softly from the dock: "I claim trial."
Each of the four charges carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. The abuse of power charge carries a fine of not less than five times the "value of gratification".
"As a public official, which is prime minister and minister of finance, used your position for self-gratification (for a) total of RM42 million," Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said, referring to the abuse of power charge.
The attorney-general, who leads a 12-member prosecution team, asked the court to set bail at RM4 million (US$988,000) in cash and to remove Najib's two passports.
Najib's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah insisted his client was "not a flight risk".
Bail was set at RM1 million with two sureties in cash. Najib was also ordered to surrender his passports.
The trial is set to take place in February and March next year, from Feb 18 to 28, Mar 4 to 8 and Mar 11 to 15.
Case management has been set for Aug 8, 2018.
The former premier was arrested at his home on Tuesday afternoon in a stunning fall from grace, less than two months after losing an election to Mahathir Mohamad and as part of the government's probe into 1MDB.
Najib, who spent the night in lockup, arrived at the court complex in Kuala Lumpur at 8.20am, wearing a dark blue suit and a red tie.
Some of Najib's children were present in the courtroom.
Crowds of media and curious onlookers jostled to catch a glimpse of the former leader as he was led to court.
Some members of Najib's UMNO party chanted and held up placards in solidarity with the former premier.
Earlier, state news agency Bernama broadcast Najib's convoy live as it moved slowly through morning rush-hour traffic during the long drive from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's offices in the administrative capital Putrajaya to the court in Kuala Lumpur.
"STRONG PRIMA FACIE CASE"
"We have a strong prima facie case which we intend to prove in the trial," Thomas told reporters after the hearing.
He also suggested that more charges will be filed against Najib.
“Today’s case is the first IP that came to my table when I clocked in three weeks ago. No doubt, there will be more IPs,” he said, using an acronym for investigation papers from the MACC.
Thomas had to move the venue of his press briefing to a different part of the building after Najib supporters heckled him and demanded that he speak in Malay.
Najib's lawyer countered: "I'm happy we have a good defence. You'll see the unfolding of the defence when the trial starts."
After appearing before the judge, the ex-leader emerged from the building to chants of "Long live Najib" by around 500 supporters.
"This is the best way to clear my name after so much of slander against me," Najib told reporters.
He later left in a convoy of five cars escorted by police outriders.
CHARGES LINKED TO SUSPICIOUS TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING SRC
Najib came to power in 2009 and soon founded 1MDB which is being investigated in at least six countries for alleged money laundering.
SRC, created in 2011 by Najib's government to pursue overseas investments in energy resources, was a unit of 1MDB until it was moved to the finance ministry in 2012.
SRC has been the initial focus of the Malaysian investigators as all the suspicious transactions involving the firm were made through Malaysian entities, unlike other 1MDB-related transactions that went through foreign banks and companies.
Najib is the first Malaysian prime minister to face criminal charges.
A spokesman for Najib said on Tuesday that the SRC charges and the 1MDB investigations against the former leader were "politically motivated", and that Najib will contest these charges and clear his name in court.
Mahathir said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia last month that embezzlement and bribery with government money were among the charges that Malaysian authorities were looking to bring against Najib.
Since his loss at the polls to mentor-turned-foe Mahathir, Najib has been barred from leaving the country and had millions of dollars of items seized from properties linked to his family.
In a pre-recorded message posted on Twitter after his arrest, Najib said not all the accusations against him and his family were true.
"Let investigations be carried out. I have not had a chance to defend myself," he said.