After repeatedly trying to delay his awaiting trial for plundering billions of dollars from the 1MDB wealth fund, Malaysia's ex-PM Najib Razak arrives in court.

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak (C) arrives at a court for his trial over 1MDB corruption allegations in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2019.
Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak (C) arrives at a court for his trial over 1MDB corruption allegations in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2019. (AFP)

Ten years to the day after he was sworn in, disgraced former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stood trial on Wednesday for corruption charges linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal that brought down his government.

Najib, wearing a dark blue suit and a matching tie, smiled as he got out of his car in front of the Kuala Lumpur high court.

Surrounded by dozens of journalists and a handful supporters, he offered prayers before entering the courthouse.

A few minutes later, the former premier was sitting in the dock.

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak arrives at a court for his trial over 1MDB corruption allegations in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2019.
Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak arrives at a court for his trial over 1MDB corruption allegations in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2019. (AFP)

Najib faces seven charges in the first of several criminal proceedings he is due to face over suspected money laundering of $4.5 billion from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The trial relates to suspected transfers totalling $10.3 million (42 million ringgit) into Najib's bank account from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of abuse of power over the transfers, which involve a fraction of the $1 billion investigators allege made its way into his accounts.

Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing and says the charges against him are politically motivated.

The trial was originally set to begin on February 12, but was delayed pending appeals by Najib's lawyers. 

On Monday, they asked the highest court to review its decision to lift the stay on the trial, media reported.

The review will be heard on Thursday by the Federal Court.

The trial begins nearly a year after Malaysians voted Najib out of office in a general election, marked by public disgust over corruption and rising living costs, that surprisingly brought Mahathir Mohamad, 93, back to power.

Since losing the election, Najib has been slapped with a total of 42 criminal charges, most of them linked to 1MDB and other state entities. Nearly $300 million worth of goods and cash were found at properties linked to Najib after the election.

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.

As the trial date neared, Najib, Malaysia's sixth prime minister, sought a radical change of image, painting himself as a victim of a vindictive government and trying to shed the image of a wealthy, elite politician.

Here is a look back at the saga:

What is 1MDB?

1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is a state investment fund which Najib Razak launched in 2009 shortly after becoming Malaysia's prime minister.

Its portfolio has included power plants and other energy assets in Malaysia and the Middle East, and real estate in Kuala Lumpur.

The fund was closely overseen by Najib.

Whistle-blowers say Low Taek Jho - commonly known as Jho Low, a jet-setting Malaysian financier close to Najib but with no official positions - helped set up 1MDB and made key financial decisions.

Concerns escalated in 2014 as 1MDB slid into an $11-billion debt hole, and intensifying public scrutiny led to a string of revelations concerning missing funds.

The issue exploded in July 2015 when The Wall Street Journal published documents showing Najib received at least $681 million in payments to his personal bank accounts.

Rich living

The US Department of Justice launched a probe due to claims that stolen Malaysian public money was laundered through the US financial system, and filed lawsuits seeking some $1.7 billion in assets allegedly purchased with the cash.

In its civil suits, the department said more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by high-level officials at the fund and their associates between 2009 and 2015.

Tens of millions of dollars in stolen money was used in 2012 by Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, an aspiring film producer, to fund the Hollywood film "The Wolf of Wall Street", starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Hundreds of millions were used, mainly by Riza and Low, to purchase high-end real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, a Monet painting for $35 million, a Van Gogh for $5.5 million, a $35 million Bombardier jet, a $100-million stake in EMI Music Publishing, and a $250 million yacht.

The US Department of Justice believes $4.5 billion in total was looted from 1MDB.

Election meltdown

Najib desperately sought to contain the scandal, targeting critics and introducing repressive laws, but the allegations hit the popularity of his long-ruling coalition and contributed to its shock election loss in May.

A new government headed by veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad, who is 93 and in his second stint as premier, came to office on a wave of public anger, and has reopened investigations.

Najib has since been hit with dozens of charges. He denies any wrongdoing.

Goldman's role

Malaysia has also charged Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs over the scandal, alleging the bank and its former employees stole billions of dollars from 1MDB.

Goldman units and two ex-bankers are accused of misappropriating $2.7 billion, bribing officials and giving false statements in relation to bond issues they arranged for the fund.

They are accused - along with Low and a former 1MDB employee - of misappropriating $2.7 billion from the bond issues, bribing officials to ensure they were selected to carry out the work and giving false statements to investors.

The two ex-bankers named in the charges are Tim Leissner, who worked as Southeast Asia chairman and managing director at Goldman, and Ng Chong Hwa, a managing director at the firm.

The bank has vowed to fight the charges.

Source: AFP