Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak was charged Wednesday with three counts of money laundering tied to the looting of billions of dollars from a government sovereign wealth fund.
Police in Malaysia said Najib stole about $10 million from a unit of 1MDB called SRC International. He allegedly made three electronic transfers into his own bank accounts.
Najib, 65, pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Wednesday.
He set up 1MDB, short for 1Malaysia Development Berhad, in 2009.
He headed the fund while he served as prime minister from 2009 until his ruling coalition lost power in elections in May.
The coalition had ruled Malaysia for six decades, largely controlled by Najib’s family. His father and uncle previously served as prime ministers.
In 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that Najib deposited about $700 million from 1MDB into his personal accounts.
Najib has said allegations about 1MDB are part of a political vendetta against him. A government panel he appointed cleared him of wrongdoing.
The new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, 92, led Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. After he switched to the opposition, he promised to investigate the looting of 1MDB and Najib’s alleged role.
During raids on houses and condos owned by Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor, Malaysian police said they seized $273 million worth of cash, jewelry, handbags, watches, and other valuables.
Last week Indonesia returned to Malaysia a $250 million yacht allegedly bought with money stolen from 1MDB.
The U.S. Justice Department has alleged in court filings that more than $4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB from 2009 through 2015 “by high-level officials” of the fund and their associates. Najib wasn’t named.
The DOJ filed forfeiture actions against nearly $1.7 billion of 1MDB-linked assets.
In Malaysia, police arrested Najib in July. He was charged then with criminal breach of trust for the transfers from SRC International.
He pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, Najib faces prison sentences of up to 20 years on the breach of trust charges, and up to 15 years for money laundering.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.