KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office.
When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer.
In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account.
The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.
“If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.
Najib said in February that he accepted the alleged donations to avoid being beholden to local business donors in the run-up to fiercely contested 2013 parliamentary elections, which saw Najib’s coalition scrape to victory despite losing the popular vote.
Najib previously said he returned most of the money to Saudi Arabia, but prosecutors allege the cash was looted from public coffers by Najib and associates.
In the United States, officials say 4.5 billion dollars could have been siphoned off from a state development fund called 1MDB which Najib helped establish over a decade ago.
Some of the money, the US Department of Justice says, was laundered through US property investments and via the making of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a film about financial corruption.
The US has repatriated 620 million dollars to Malaysia after recovering related assets.
Najib denies all wrongdoing and has said he wants to be prove his innocence in court.
However Najib faces the prospect of his stepson, Riza Aziz, testifying against him during upcoming hearings, after a court in May agreed to drop a 248-million-dollar money-laundering case against Riza, whose production company made “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Najib could also face contempt of court charges arising from a recent media interview in which he said he expected a “more conducive” trial atmosphere after a change of government that saw the United Malays National Organisation, the party he once led, return to government after an intrigue-laden power struggle sparked when Mahathir Mohamad quit as prime minister in late February.
The government is now led by Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin, who was sacked as Najib’s deputy in 2015 after voicing concerns about the corruption allegations.
Muhyiddin then partnered with Najib’s former mentor Mahathir Mohamad, who came out of retirement in 2016, railing against his former protege, whom he called “a thief.”
Mahathir then led an opposition coalition to a shock election win in 2018, the first change of government since Malaysian independence in 1957, after which a chastened Najib tried unsuccessfully to flee the country.Show