Malaysian ex-PM Najib's first 1MDB trial postponed
Updated 11:54, 12-Feb-2019
By Sim Sim Wissgott

The corruption trial of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, due to begin on Tuesday, has been postponed indefinitely pending an appeal on a technical issue.

The trial was set to be the first related to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal, which helped bring down Najib's government last year and has had ramifications from Hollywood to Switzerland.

Najib's lawyers however requested that proceedings be put off until a matter relating to charges was settled.

No new trial date has been set but prosecutors were hopeful late Monday that the delay would be no longer than one or two weeks.

It is the first time in Malaysian history that a former premier has been charged in court.

Here is a look at the charges against Najib and a quick recap of the events leading up to the trial.

The scandal

A Hollywood star, a top model, an Oscar-nominated movie, a luxury yacht, and priceless artwork: the scandal around 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a state investment fund set up by Najib in 2009, almost sounds like the plot of a soap opera.

Najib's role in the scandal is tied to some 4.5 billion U.S. dollars allegedly stolen from the fund between 2009 and 2015. About 700 million U.S. dollars reportedly landed in the former prime minister's personal bank accounts.

CGTN composite of VCG pictures showing model Miranda Kerr (L) at the InStyle Awards in Los Angeles, California, October 22, 2018, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio (R) at the LACMA in Los Angeles, California, October 24, 2016.

CGTN composite of VCG pictures showing model Miranda Kerr (L) at the InStyle Awards in Los Angeles, California, October 22, 2018, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio (R) at the LACMA in Los Angeles, California, October 24, 2016.

One of the biggest scandals Malaysia has ever seen, the dodgy dealings at 1MDB also attracted international attention, with authorities as far as Switzerland, Singapore, and the U.S. launching investigations into money flows from the fund.

Some of the stolen money was used to fund the movie "The Wolf of Wall Street," to buy a Picasso painting for actor Leonardo DiCaprio and jewelry for model Miranda Kerr, investigators found. The U.S. Department of Justice described the fraud as "kleptocracy at its worst."

Read more: Stars, diamonds and corruption: Malaysia's 1MDB scandal

Arrested on July 3, 2018, barely two months after being ousted from power, Najib, 65, has since been charged with 42 counts of fraud, money laundering, and abuse of power in connection with the scandal.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

Police officers stand guard outside the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 20, 2018. /VCG Photo

Police officers stand guard outside the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 20, 2018. /VCG Photo

The trial

The first trial against Najib is over seven counts of money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power related to the alleged transfer into his personal bank account of over 10 million U.S. dollars from SRC International, a unit of 1MDB set up to deal with energy projects.

Criminal breach of trust carries a sentence of up to 20 years in jail.

The trial was initially expected to be concluded by the end of March, with local media saying around 50 witnesses could be called to testify, including the former head of SRC, Suboh Mohd Yassin, who has reportedly been in witness protection since surrendering to police last summer.

CGTN Graphic

CGTN Graphic

Political revenge?

The trial of a former prime minister was always going to have political implications. But the 1MDB scandal's impact on Malaysia's general election last year and the new government's assurances that it wants to combat corruption have heightened the stakes.

There is also no love lost between Najib and his successor and previous mentor, Mahathir Mohamad.

After 60 years in government, Najib's Barisan Nasional coalition was ousted from power last May in part due to the corruption allegations against him.

Malaysians were then incensed to learn police had recovered close to 300 million U.S. dollars in cash, jewelry and luxury handbags from properties belonging to Najib and his family.

Now, many in Malaysia see his trial as a test of whether Mahathir's government will really crack down on corruption. As such, the new delay is a blow to these efforts.

CGTN screenshot of Najib Razak's Instagram account.

CGTN screenshot of Najib Razak's Instagram account.

Last month, the prime minister launched a sweeping National Anti-Corruption Plan and warned that those in government would not escape scrutiny.

Malaysia also filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs in December for its role in raising funds for 1MDB.

Mahathir insisted after last year's election that his government was "not seeking revenge" against his predecessor. 

Najib's lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said however that the trial will be "political" and amounted to payback against Najib by the new government.

Aside from getting the trial postponed, the former prime minister's team also applied for a gag order last summer, arguing that extensive media coverage would prevent Najib from getting a fair hearing – a request that was turned down by the court.

Trial Factsheet


Location: Kuala Lumpur High Court


Dates: TBD


Defendant: Najib Razak


Lead prosecutor: Sulaiman Abdullah


Lead defense counsel: Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

Najib meanwhile has been on a charm offensive, touring local communities, rubbing elbows with ordinary people, and even appearing in a video that quickly went viral, singing an R&B song in Malay, while trolling the government on social media.

Aside from Najib, several associates have been charged or are being sought in connection with fraudulent dealings at 1MDB. Malaysian financier Jho Low, one of the key players in the scandal, is still at large. Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor meanwhile faces around 20 counts for money laundering, soliciting bribes, and tax evasion.