KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was charged with corruption on Wednesday for allegedly accepting millions of dollars in bribe money, in a stunning fall from grace just months after his shock election defeat.
Najib, the first ex-premier in Malaysia to appear in front of a judge, is accused of pocketing 42 million ringgit ($10.4 million), and three counts of criminal breach of trust.
Each charge — all of which he denied — could see him jailed for up to 20 years.
The unprecedented court appearance came the day after the 64-year-old was arrested at his luxury home by officers probing how billions of dollars of state funds disappeared on his watch.
Allegations of massive corruption were a major factor behind the shock election loss in May of Najib´s long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance headed by his 92-year-old former mentor Mahathir Mohamad.
Wednesday´s court hearing was the latest step in a quick-moving investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Najib, his family and many of his close political and business allies.
“Najib is the first (former) prime minister ever to be charged in court in the history of Malaysia,” said Tian Chua, vice president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, a key political party in the current ruling coalition.
“It signals a new era where no one in public office will be immune from punitive action if they abuse power,” he added.
Attorney General Tommy Thomas, who leads a 12-member prosecution team, asked the court to set bail at four million ringgit in cash and asked the court to remove Najib´s passport.
Najib´s lawyer Muhammad Shafee insisted his client was “not a flight risk”.
The judge was expected to rule later.
According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, $10.6 million originating from SRC International Sdn Bhd, an energy company that was originally a subsidiary of 1MDB, was transferred to Najib´s personal bank accounts, a fraction of hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB that was allegedly funnelled to him.
Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
Since the election loss Najib has been banned from leaving the country.
“We pray Datuk Seri Najib gets a fair trial. It is a test from Allah,” the former leader´s daughter-in-law Nur Sharmila Shaheen told AFP, using an honorific title, adding her father-in-law was “calm”.