By Hadi Azmi, Muzliza Mustafa and Ali Nufael*
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will face new charges in court Wednesday under the nation’s anti-money laundering act, in a case tied to allegations that he and his associates embezzled billions of dollars from a state investment fund, officials said.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) made the announcement on Tuesday hours after inviting Najib for another round of questioning.
Najib, 65, was arrested last month and pleaded not guilty to abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust.
MACC said Najib will be charged under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 when he appears at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Wednesday. It did not elaborate.
The charges were related to accusations that 42 million ringgit (about U.S. $10.3 million) was illegally diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts from SRC International, an energy company that used to be a subsidiary of the state fund 1MDB.
Najib, who was accompanied by his lawyers, spent 45 minutes inside the MACC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur before leaving without speaking to reporters.
If found guilty, Najib could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the original four counts. He is free on a 1-million ringgit ($250,000) bail and the court has ordered him to surrender his passports. Najib has described the allegations as part of the new government’s “political vengeance.”
Meanwhile, government investigators boarded the $250 million (1.3 billion ringgit) yacht Equanimity after it docked around 12:40 p.m. at the Boustead Cruise Center terminal in Pelabuhan Klang. Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low) allegedly bought the yacht using funds stolen from 1MDB.
It sailed into the Malaysian port a day after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad thanked Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for agreeing to hand it over to Malaysian officials.
The Cayman Islands-flagged vessel had been moored off the Indonesian island of Bali since it was boarded by Indonesian police and FBI agents on Feb. 27.
James Haggerty, a lawyer for Jho Low, said Malaysia’s seizure was against court rulings in Indonesia and the United States. Malaysia has issued an arrest warrant for Jho Low, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Najib told reporters he had no knowledge that Equanimity was purchased using 1MDB funds.
Supporter plans protest
Speaking to BenarNews, a United Malays National Organization (UMNO) Supreme Council member and close friend of Najib slammed the government for its latest action.
“The charges have nothing to do with 1MDB and prove that the Pakatan Harapan government led by Mahathir Mohamad is vindictive,” Lokman Noor Adam said.
Lokman rallied a group of about 50 supporters outside of MACC headquarters last month to protest as Najib was brought in to be arrested. He expects a similar display of support outside the high court on Wednesday.