Kuala Lumpur, Aug 8 (IANS) Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was on Wednesday charged with three counts of money laundering in connection with a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The fresh charges were connected to the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.3 million) from SRC International, a 1MDB subsidiary, to Najib’s personal bank accounts, state news agency Bernama said.
The charges came a month after Najib was charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one charge of abuse of power.
The 65-year-old former leader appeared at the Kuala Lumpur Courts complex at around 9 a.m. for a pre-trial case-management hearing. After the prosecution team read the new charges in court, he pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.
Najib, whose government was plagued by the graft scandal, was defeated in May by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad in a shock election result.
At the court, the prosecution stated that the 42 million ringgit, transferred in three tranches into Najib’s bank account, were obtained from illegal activities.
Each of the three money-laundering charges carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to five times of the ill-gotten wealth.
The multiple charges filed against him in July were also connected to SRC International.
The judge postponed his decision on the trial date to Friday and said he will also settle the gag order, issued earlier to prevent the public from commenting on the case, according to a Xinhua news agency report.
1MDB was set up by Najib in 2009 to spur Malaysia’s economic development. But reports emerged later that billions of US dollars were misappropriated. Najib has been under investigation related to 1MDB since losing the elections, but has denied any wrongdoing.
After taking office, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, reopened an investigation into 1MDB and prevented Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, from leaving the country.
In July, the police said they had seized $225 million in luxury handbags, jewellery, cash and goods from six properties linked to the former leader.
On Tuesday, a luxury yacht that was allegedly procured using stolen money from 1MDB was returned to the Malaysian government. The yacht which was seized by Indonesian authorities last year, was purchased by Malaysian financier Jho Low in 2014, a close family friend of Najib.
Last month, Najib was arrested and charged with abuse of power and criminal breach of trust. That time he pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on bail.
In addition to Malaysia, the US, Switzerland and Singapore were among half a dozen countries investigating the alleged embezzlement.
The US Department of Justice estimates the money diverted from 1MDB to be $4.5 billion, of which about $1 billion may have been laundered in the US through the purchase of real estate, yachts, jewellery and works of art, among others.