Malaysia’s Najib clueless about millions banked in his account, lawyers say

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak did not know that millions of dollars transferred into his personal accounts came from scandal-linked state fund 1MDB, his lawyers said on Wednesday as prosecutors wrapped up their first case against the ex-premier.

FILE PHOTO: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

Najib, who lost a general election last year, is facing dozens of criminal charges over allegations that $4.5 billion was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund he co-founded in 2009.

In the first case against him, Najib has pleaded not guilty to seven charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power over allegations that he illegally received transfers totaling 42 million ringgit ($10 million) from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said in his closing submissions on Tuesday that Najib acted like an ‘emperor’ and misused his positions as prime minister, finance minister and adviser to SRC to obtain the funds.

Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who leads Najib’s defence team, called for the case against his client to be dismissed.

“We can prove that my client had no dishonesty, no knowledge that the money came from other sources other than the donation from the Arabs,” he told the court.

Najib was duped by Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho into believing that $681 million banked into his accounts in 2013 were donated by the Saudi royal family, rather than misappropriated from 1MDB as U.S. lawsuits have alleged, Muhammad Shafee said.

Najib later returned $620 million to the donor because the money was not utilized, the lawyer said.

Referring to the SRC case, another defence lawyer, Farhan Read, said the alleged transfers occurred three years after the company was set up and questioned why Najib would wait so long to secure the funds.

“In addition that he was the puppet master and emperor, it implies that he also has the gift of foresight,” Farhan said. “This puts too much on the accused, the evidence says otherwise.”

Low, also known as Jho Low, faces charges in Malaysia and the United States over his alleged central role in the case. He has denied wrongdoing and his whereabouts are unknown.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case against Najib after hearing statements from 57 witnesses. A ruling on whether to acquit or call for him to enter his defence will be delivered on Nov. 11.

The case has also drawn scrutiny to U.S. bank Goldman Sachs, which has been charged in Malaysia for allegedly misleading investors over bond sales of $6.5 billion that the bank helped raise for 1MDB.

Malaysia has discussed a $2 billion to $3 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, quoting unnamed sources.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff