KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Malaysian authorities charged Paul Stadlen, a British national who had worked for disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak as a media adviser, with two counts of money laundering, state news agency Bernama reported on Wednesday.
Najib was ousted in a general election last year amid widespread public anger over a multibillion-dollar graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Malaysian anti-graft investigators issued a notice in November calling for Stadlen, whose whereabouts are unknown, to assist in its 1MDB probe. Malaysian media reports say he fled the country shortly after Najib’s shock defeat in the May 9 election.
Stadlen was charged in absentia on Wednesday with laundering a total of 14.3 million ringgit ($3.5 million) that were proceeds from illegal activities and had been deposited in the client account of a law firm that prosecutors claimed received money from Najib.
Stadlen was accused of ordering the sum to be transferred from the account to several companies and individuals between June 2014 and August 2015, Bernama said, citing charge sheets filed at a Kuala Lumpur court.
Mishcon de Reya, a London-based law firm representing Stadlen, said in a statement their client denied wrongdoing and described the charges against him as politically-motivated, media reported.
“The Malaysian government has a political agenda, and Stadlen is now caught up in the backlash against former prime minister Najib,” Kevin Gold, Mishcon de Reya’s managing partner, was quoted as saying by news portal Malaysiakini.
The firm did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Mohamad Hafarizam Harun, the head of the Najib-linked law firm, pleaded not guilty to two counts of money laundering for depositing cheques totaling 15 million ringgit from Najib into his firm’s client account, Bernama said on Thursday.
At least six countries are investigating 1MDB, a state fund founded by Najib in 2009.
Malaysian and U.S. investigators say about $4.5 billion was siphoned from the fund and that about $1 billion made its way into Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Since the election, Najib has been hit with 42 criminal charges, most of them linked to 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty. ($1 = 4.0660 ringgit) (Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)