Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is set to take the witness stand on Tuesday, in a highly anticipated appearance before the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, as he fights off the first of several cases related to the scandal at state fund 1MDB, in which he is accused of taking 42 million ringgit ($10m).
Najib is expected to present his defence testimony then be questioned by prosecutors in public – earning him the dubious honour of becoming the first former leader of Malaysia to testify on his own behalf in a corruption trial.
On social media, Najib had said that he was looking forward to “the chance to clear my name in court”. Earlier, his defence counsel, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had said the public could expect a sworn testimony.
But reports said Najib could also change his mind at the last minute, and choose to deliver an unsworn statement, or exercise his right to remain silent. In both instances, prosecutors will have no opportunity to cross-examine him.
About 40 people were at court before Najib’s arrival to show their support.
Among them was 60-year-old Hajjah Radiah who was attending the hearing for the first time.
“I have been a longtime supporter of Najib,” Hajjah said. “He has done so much for the Malaysian people.”
Tuesday’s case centres on SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, the controversial state fund that the United States Department of Justice alleges was drained of $4.5bn of government money during Najib’s time as prime minister. Prosecutors in Malaysia say an estimated $10m of SRC funds ended up in Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Najib pleaded not guilty to all seven charges linked to SRC when the trial began in April. He has denounced the legal proceedings, which lasted until August, as political witch-hunt.
On November 11, the court ordered Najib to enter his defence to the charges laid out in the case, saying he had “enormous and overarching influence” over the fund.
As prime minister, Najib also held the finance ministry portfolio, giving him “considerable power” to order where the money from SRC should go, the judge said.
After the court decision was announced, Shafee had said that Najib was “shocked”, because he had been expecting to be absolved of the charges.
If convicted in the case, the former prime minister could face between 15 and 20 years in jail.
So far, Najib has faced three separate trials.
The second and biggest case covers several charges including 21 counts of money laundering involving $550m directly from 1MDB, while the third case, which started on November 18, relates to alleged abuse of power and cover up of an audit report at 1MDB. Two more trials are still pending.
As the cases continue, Najib remains free on bail and continues to represent his constituents as an opposition member of Parliament, openly criticising the policies of his former mentor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the coalition that removed him from power in May last year.
Public anger about alleged corruption during Najib’s near-decade as prime minister led to his electoral defeat, and the return of Mahathir, who also served as prime minister between 1981 to 2003.
Additional reporting by Manar Al Adam