A Malaysian court has begun hearing a bid by former Prime Minister Najib Razak to overturn his conviction on corruption charges, in a case linked to the looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
The appeal on Monday came more than eight months after a high court found Najib guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving about $10m from a former 1MBD unit called the SRC International.
The former prime minister – who co-founded the 1MDB fund – was sentenced to 12 years in jail and given a $50m fine.
He has denied all wrongdoing and his sentence was stayed pending the appeal.
The conviction made Najib the first Malaysian leader to be found guilty of corruption and was part of the first of several fraud trials against the former prime minister.
The 1MDB scandal sparked investigations in the United States and several other countries, with prosecutors alleging that more than $4.5bn was stolen from the state fund and laundered by Najib’s associates. The former prime minister received more than $1bn of the 1MDB funds, according to prosecutors, and he is facing a total of 42 criminal charges over the scandal.
Najib, 67, arrived at the Court of Appeal early on Monday but did not speak to reporters.
“There is a total breach of fair trial – unheard of,” defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told the court as proceedings got under way. “We have a mess, so we have to deal with it.”
During the appeal, set to run until April 22, defence lawyers will argue that the trial judge had erred in dismissing evidence showing that Najib was misled by Malaysian financier Jho Low and other 1MDB officials into believing that the funds in his account were a donation from the Saudi royal family.
Low, whose whereabouts is unknown, has denied wrongdoing.
“(Najib) had no knowledge of the 42 million ringgit transactions into his account or knowledge that the same were from the account of SRC,” said the documents submitted to court ahead of the hearing.
If he loses the appeal, Najib still has a final chance to challenge the conviction at Malaysia’s top court.
Anger at the 1MDB plunder played a large part in the unexpected loss of Najib’s long-ruling coalition at elections in 2018, but his scandal-plagued party has now returned to power following the collapse of a reformist administration, headed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The amounts involved in Najib’s first case are small compared with those in his second and most significant trial, which centres on allegations he illicitly obtained more than $500m.
His wife and several officials from his party and the previous government have also been charged with fraud related to 1MDB corruption.
In recent months, Malaysia has recovered more than $3bn from US bank Goldman Sachs, audit firm Deloitte and Malaysian banking group AmBank in separate deals to settle claims linked to 1MDB probes.