Court to hear former Malaysian premier Najib's appeals on March 11-12

Najib claimed in a Facebook posting that the move is an indication that Pakatan Harapan government does not want to return the seized assets as it would prove his innocence.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's Court of Appeal has set March 11 and 12 to hear four appeals by former prime minister Najib Razak over charges related to a multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Najib has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power, and his trial was originally set to begin on Tuesday (Feb 12).

The trial was on seven charges related to allegations that Najib pocketed RM42 million (S$14 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB. It is just one of several trials he is expected to face over 1MDB.

But Najib's lawyers filed an application for the trial to be delayed pending an appeal on a technicality related to the transfer of charges between courts.

National news agency Bernama quoted Deputy Public Prosecutor Budiman Lutfi Mohamed as saying on Thursday that the dates to hear the appeal were fixed by the Court of Appeal's registrar after a meeting between him, another DPP named Muhammad Izzat Fauzan and Najib's lawyer Harvinderjit Singh.

"The court fixed March 11 and 12 to hear the appeal. The court also ordered both parties to file written submissions by March 4 or 5," said Mr Budiman.

According to Bernama, the Court of Appeal will hear an appeal by Najib over a lower court's ruling to transfer some of the charges to the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

It will also hear applications for a gag order to prohibit the media from discussing the merits of his case, recovery of documents and statements related to the case and his challenge on the appointment of lawyer Sulaiman Abdullah as the lead prosecutor in the SRC trial.

Najib, 66, was ousted in an election in May last year amid public fury over the alleged theft of US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) from 1MDB.

The SRC trial is the first of several criminal proceedings that Najib is expected to face over the 1MDB scandal so far, and the sum involved is a fraction of the US$1 billion that investigators say allegedly made its way into the former premier's bank accounts.

At least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore, have launched money laundering and graft probes into 1MDB, set up by Najib in 2009.

US prosecutors say money stolen from 1MDB was used to buy a private jet, luxury real estate, artworks by Picasso and Monet, as well as jewellery for Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor. Najib and his wife both deny wrongdoing.

SRC was the initial focus of Malaysian investigators, as all the suspicious transactions involving the firm were made through Malaysian entities, unlike other 1MDB-related transactions that went through foreign banks and companies.