Malaysian court to deliver verdict in Najib's first 1MDB trial

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) –


A Malaysian court will hand down its verdict in Najib Razak's first corruption trial Tuesday following a long-running case probing the former prime minister's role in the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

Najib, who could be jailed for decades if convicted, and his inner circle are accused of plundering sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad in a fraud that stretched around the world.

Stolen cash was used to buy high-end real estate, pricey art and fund a Hollywood blockbuster, while investment titan Goldman Sachs also became embroiled in the controversy.

Anger at the looting played a large part in the shock loss of Najib's long-ruling coalition in elections two years ago, and he was arrested and hit with dozens of charges following his defeat.

The verdict is a test of Malaysia's rule of law. It comes about five months after Najib's scandal-plagued party returned to power as part of a coalition, a development observers fear could affect the outcome of his cases.

The court is expected to deliver the verdict at 10:00 am (0200 GMT), in the first of Najib's 1MDB-link trials, which began in April last year.

It centres on the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($9.9 million) from a former 1MDB unit, SRC International, into his bank accounts.

The ex-leader, who is facing four charges of corruption and three of money-laundering in the case, denies wrongdoing and insists he was ignorant of the transactions.

The defence team have portrayed Najib as a victim and instead sought to paint financier Low Taek Jho, a key figure in the scandal who has been charged in the US and Malaysia, as the mastermind.

Low, whose whereabouts are unknown, maintains his innocence.

Prosecutors however insist Najib was in control of the 1MDB unit, SRC International.

- 'I am ready' -

As Najib arrived at court, a huge crowd of chanting supporters wearing red -- the colour of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party -- was waiting to greet him.

In a Facebook post late Monday, the ex-leader said the two years since his defeat at the polls had been like "darkness" and he was ready for the verdict.

"I want justice. I want to clear my name," he wrote, adding that he would appeal if the decision goes against him.

The return of UMNO to power as part of a coalition in March followed the collapse of Mahathir Mohamad's reformist administration.

Since then, 1MDB-linked charges were unexpectedly dropped against the ex-leader's stepson Riza Aziz, a producer of Hollywood movie the "Wolf of Wall Street", in exchange for him agreeing to return assets to Malaysia.

Prosecutors also dropped dozens of charges against Najib ally Musa Aman, the former leader of Sabah state.

If Najib -- currently free on bail -- is convicted, he could be sentenced the same day. But having vowed to appeal, even if convicted he may not be jailed straight away.

Each charge of corruption carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.

If found guilty and the conviction is upheld, he would also be barred from political office for several years.

The amounts involved in Najib's first case are small compared to those in his second and most significant trial, which centres on allegations he illicitly obtained over $500 million.

Malaysia had charged Goldman Sachs and some current and former staff, claiming large amounts were stolen when the bank arranged bond issues for 1MDB.

But the two sides agreed to a $3.9 billion settlement last week in exchange for charges being dropped.