KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak was charged on Thursday (Oct 25) with six counts of criminal breach of trust involving RM6.6 billion (US$1.59 billion) of government funds, adding to the 32 charges he already faces for money laundering and graft.
His former treasury chief, Irwan Serigar Abdullah, was also charged with criminal breach of trust, becoming the highest-ranking civil servant to be charged since Najib was unexpectedly ousted in a general election in May.
The two pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Each charge carries a jail term of up to 20 years, a fine and a whipping sentence, but both Najib and Irwan would be exempted from whipping as they are over the age of 50.
JUST IN: Former PM Najib Razak arrives to face more charges - this time for several cases of alleged criminal breach of trust involving government funds. He’ll be jointly charged with former Treasury secretary-general Irwan Serigar. pic.twitter.com/VdBW3ARoA5— Sumisha Naidu (@SumishaCNA) October 25, 2018
"Nothing in the charges show that any of the acts I undertook resulted in any benefit to me," Najib said at a press conference after the court hearing.
"There shouldn't be any belief that any of the monies stated in the charges were lost, or that there were any elements of self-interest."
Four of the six charges filed on Thursday involving about R4.78 billion relate to a settlement agreement between scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and Abu Dhabi state fund IPIC, said Azam Baki, a deputy commissioner at the anti-graft agency.
In 2017, 1MDB had agreed to pay US$1.2 billion to the Abu Dhabi fund, in a settlement agreement following a dispute between the two over bond payments, according to the companies.
The 1MDB-linked charges allege Irwan and Najib committed the breach of trust offence with RM220 million of government funds meant for Kuala Lumpur International Airport Berhad, RM1.3 billion meant for a subsidy and cash aid programme and RM3.3 billion of other government funds.
After being detained overnight, former Treasury Secretary-General Irwan Serigar will be in court this morning to be jointly charged with former PM Najib Razak for several cases of alleged criminal breach of trust involving government funds. https://t.co/U7bFPT8l52— Sumisha Naidu (@SumishaCNA) October 25, 2018
Retired Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram, who is leading the prosecution team, said of Najib: “He was the trustee of the highest order or the monies of the country. The fact that he stands accused before your honour for violating that trust is very serious."
After the charges were read out, Najib's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said: “We are quite delighted upon reading these charges and we are looking forward to defending him ... The charges are atrocious in its absurdity.”
Mr Shafee said his client did not personally benefit from these transactions.
"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," he told the court.
He said the other two charges relate to a pipeline project and the East Cost Rail Link (ECRL), a US$14 billion project that was the centrepiece of China's infrastructure push in Malaysia.
The project, signed under Najib's premiership, was suspended by current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has said the deal was "unfair" to Malaysia.
The judge released Najib and Irwan after setting a bail of RM1 million each. Both men must also surrender their international and diplomatic passports.
Prosecutors had earlier asked for RM3 million bail for Najib, but the former premier's lawyers said it was getting difficult for Najib to settle bail after having paid RM4.5 million in bail since July.
"I would like to ask that my client is given at least three weeks for him to settle the RM1 million bail because it has become very difficult for my client, even before and in the latest case," Mr Shafee said, adding Najib's bank accounts remain frozen.
The judge ordered the bail be paid in 10 days. Their case will be heard again on Nov 29.
Najib is already facing 32 charges of money laundering, graft and breach of trust over transactions linked to 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is due to begin next year.
His wife, Rosmah Mansor, was charged with money laundering earlier this month and had to pay bail of RM2 million.
United States authorities allege that about US$4.5 billion was siphoned from 1MDB, which Najib founded in 2009 and chaired.
Additional reporting by Sumisha Naidu.