Former Malaysia PM Najib cleared of audit tampering in 1MDB graft scandal

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to journalists outside the Federal Court during a court break, in Putrajaya
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to journalists outside the Federal Court during a court break, in Putrajaya, Malaysia August 23, 2022. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 (Reuters) - A Malaysian court on Friday acquitted jailed former Prime Minister Najib Razak of audit tampering in one of the many cases he faces over a multi-billion corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The acquittal comes amid renewed scrutiny on government graft under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose administration had to partner with Najib's corruption-tainted party to form a government late last year.

It also comes ahead of a decision due this month by Malaysia's top court on Najib's bid for a judicial review of his conviction and 12-year jail sentence in a separate case for illegally receiving funds from a 1MDB unit.

Applications for judicial reviews, which come after all other legal appeals have been exhausted, have rarely been successful in Malaysia.

Friday's acquittal was on a charge of abusing his position as prime minister to amend a government audit into 1MDB. The fund's former chief executive Arul Kandasamy was charged with abetting Najib and was also cleared and both had pleaded not guilty.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court on Friday ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish a case against them, their lawyers told reporters.

"(The court) found that there was no element of gratification... absolutely no element of corruption in Najib's role in these charges," Najib's lawyer Shafee Abdullah said.

The Attorney-General's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Najib faces three more cases related to corruption at various government entities and 1MDB, a fund he co-founded in 2009. Some of those charges accuse him of receiving funds illegally from those entities into his bank accounts.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all those charges.

An estimated $4.5 billion was allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged.

Shafee described the charges against Najib, who has been in prison since August last year, as "politically charged" and expressed hope that Malaysia's highest court would rule in favour of the judicial review request this month.

"We hope this is the beginning of many good things to come," Shafee said.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff Editing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty

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