GENEVA, April 19 ― Lawyers for two men accused of embezzling US$1.8 billion (RM8.6 billion) from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB began laying out their case yesterday after Swiss state prosecutors sought hefty jail terms.

PetroSaudi chief executive Tarek Obaid and Patrick Mahony, a director at the Saudi oil exploration and production company, are on trial at Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona.


They are accused of involvement in a vast embezzlement orchestrated by Jho Low, an advisor to former Malaysian prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Noting the sums involved compared to Malaysia's GDP, prosecutor Alice de Chambrier on Wednesday called it the “scam of the century” and branded the defendants as “calculative, manipulative and obscenely greedy”, the Keystone-ATS news agency reported.

She sought a 10-year sentence for Obaid and a nine-year term for his right-hand man.


Prosecutors also requested the detention of the two due to the perceived risk of flight in the gap between the trial and the verdict.

Obaid is a Swiss-Saudi dual national, while Mahony is Swiss-British.

'Wrong approach'

Opening their case, the defence lawyers tried to set out the context of relations between PetroSaudi and 1MDB.

Nicolas Rouiller said the attorney general's office had “adopted a radically wrong approach”, ignoring the nature of Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy.

He said individuals, especially those belonging to very high-ranking families like Obaid, were not free in their actions.

As for the use of an Islamic loan, Rouiller said it was a common practice in Muslim countries and could not therefore be seen as a dishonest manoeuvre aimed at cheating 1MDB.

“There is no injury in this operation. This is exactly what is wanted” by the partners, he said.

Daniel Zappelli said several allegations had been dropped by the prosecution, highlighted the absence of Najib and Low and said there were variations in the amounts that the defendants allegedly laundered, Keystone-ATS reported.

Myriam Fehr-Alaoui put the emphasis on those around the sovereign wealth fund and PetroSaudi, such as banks, financial advisors and oil experts.

The defence also said Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur wanted to strengthen relations following Najib's election in 2009 and claimed the Malaysians wanted a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi wrapped up quickly.

Gems and jets claim

The multi-billion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal has led to criminal investigations around the world, including in the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

It is alleged that billions of dollars were pilfered from the fund, officially 1Malaysia Development Berhad, by a number of people and used to buy items ranging from artwork to a superyacht.

Najib was in 2022 sentenced to 12 years in jail in Malaysia for offences linked to the misuse of public money. In February, his sentence was halved to six years.

The 1MDB scandal led to the fall of Najib's government in 2018.

During the Swiss trial on Wednesday, the prosecution requested that assets sequestered by Switzerland be confiscated and returned to 1MDB.

Chambrier said Obaid and Mahony squandered their loot on precious stones, private jets, rented yachts and property in London and Geneva.

She accused them of “extraordinary criminal activity and tenacity” over 10 years between 2009 and 2019, if alleged acts of concealment are included, Keystone-ATS reported.

The case, being heard by three judges, opened on April 2 and is scheduled to last until the end of the month, though the verdict could take months. ― AFP