Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was formally charged Wednesday with corruption linked to a multi-billion dollar financial scandal that contributed to his shock election defeat less than two months ago, according to a report by AFP.
While appearing before a judge, Najib pleaded not guilty to three counts of criminal breach of trust and a separate charge that he abused his position to pocket 42 million ringgit ($10.4 million)
Each charge 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.
In court, the former leader appeared tired and hung his head often during proceedings.
Allegations of massive corruption were a major factor behind the electoral earthquake in May that toppled Najib’s long-ruling coalition and ushered in 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.
Najib is expected to be freed on bail later Wednesday after the court decided on at one million ringgit bond.
The former premier was also ordered to surrender his two Malaysian passports.
Attorney General Tommy Thomas, who leads a 12-member prosecution team, had requested bail of four million ringgit in cash, but Najib’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee insisted his client was “not a flight risk”.
The court set a tentative date for the trial, beginning in February 2019.
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.