Najib's RM2.3b 1MDB trial scheduled today: What is it about?

Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court August 19, 2019.  — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court August 19, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is scheduled to go on trial today over massive sums of more than RM2 billion tied to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, but it is not yet known if it will actually proceed.

This is the second case in the queue to go on trial, as Najib has been charged with a total of 42 charges in five separate cases.

The five cases cannot be heard simultaneously as Najib has to be physically present during trial when witnesses testify and evidence is presented before the trial judge, to ensure a fair trial for the accused.

So what is this 1MDB trial about?

The 1MDB trial (or case number two) has also been described as the Tanore case, taking after the company Tanore Finance Corporation which has been named as the firm which passed allegedly illegal funds to Najib.

Under the 1MDB trial, Najib is facing a total of 25 charges, namely four counts of abusing his position for his own financial benefit totalling almost RM2.3 billion and the resulting 21 counts of money-laundering.

The abuse of power charges

The four counts of alleged abuse of power under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009's Section 23 are in relation to a total of RM2,282,937,678.41 (more than RM2.28 billion) that Najib was alleged to have benefited from personally by using his position.

Najib was alleged to have committed these offences by a series of decisions and approvals in relation to things such as 1MDB's precursor Terengganu Investment Authority, 1MDB's joint venture with PetroSaudi International Limited and related investment, 1MDB's joint venture with Aabar Investment PJS, loan approval for 1MDB Energy Holdings Limited, and issuing a letter of support to 1MDB Global Investment Limited for bonds to be issued.

The abuse of power was alleged to have occurred between February 24, 2011 to December 19, 2014, when Najib held the triple roles of prime minister, finance minister and 1MDB advisory board chairman at the same time.

The penalty for this corruption offence of power abuse is a maximum jail term of 20 years, and a fine of RM10,000 or five times the value of the amount that the accused is said to have benefited from.

The money-laundering charges

As for the 21 money-laundering charges that arise from the corruption charges, Najib is accused of having committed these offences by having dealt with illicit funds or money that are proceeds from unlawful activities.

Under the money-laundering charges, Najib is accused of having received a total of RM2,081,476,926 (RM2.08 billion) in his AmIslamic Bank account from Tanore Finance Corporation's account at the Falcon Private Bank in Singapore, and also having used illegal funds totalling RM22.649 million by issuing cheques to five recipients including Umno and Batu Kawan Umno.

Najib is also accused of having transferred illegal funds out of his AmIslamic Bank account totalling RM2,196,786,711.87 (RM2.197 billion), including a total of over RM2.034 billion to Tanore Finance Corporation and smaller sums of RM150 million and over RM12 million to another AmIslamic Bank account owned by him.

These offences were allegedly committed within a few months from March 3 to August 8, 2013.

The penalty for the money-laundering offences brought under Section 4(1)(a) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act is a maximum RM5 million fine or a maximum five-year jail or both.

But will it go on today?

It is unclear if trial will actually start today, as the first trial that Najib is facing in Malaysian courts — the SRC trial — is still ongoing.

Najib's SRC trial involves a total of seven charges of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money-laundering in relation to RM42 million of 1MDB's former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd.

Criminal trials have to go through the prosecution stage where prosecution witnesses are called, before the court decides whether the accused has to enter defence

Both Najib and the prosecution had previously asked the courts to again defer the 1MDB trial, in order to allow time for the prosecution stage at the SRC trial to be completed first.

The SRC trial is currently at the tail end of the prosecution stage, with the last prosecution witness testifying and replying to questions by the prosecution. Najib's lawyers would then have the opportunity to cross-examine the final prosecution witness, while the prosecution would be able to re-examine the witness.

The 1MDB case is set to come up before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah, who will have the discretion to decide if trial will begin today or be allowed to be deferred again as the SRC trial is still ongoing.

The SRC case is also scheduled to come up later today before High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.