A Malaysian court heard an appeal Monday by former Prime Minister Najib Razak of his conviction last year in connection with the massive graft scandal at state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB investment fund.
The 67-year-old Najib was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of abuse of power, breach of trust and money laundering. Prosecutors accused Najib of illegally receiving nearly $10 million from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
Najib claims he was misled by Malaysian financier Jho Low and other rogue 1MDB officials into believing the money deposited into his personal accounts was donated by the Saudi royal family.
Najib faces as many as 42 charges involved with the embezzlement of up to $4.5 billion from 1MDB, which he created in 2009 to spur Malaysia’s economic development. U.S. investigators say the missing money was used to buy hotels, luxury items such as a yacht, jewelry and classic artwork, and to finance the 2013 Hollywood feature film The Wolf of Wall Street. Investigators say as much as $1 billion ended up in Najib’s personal accounts.
Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansour, is also facing several corruption charges after a raid on the couple’s properties found over $270 million in cash, jewelry, luxury handbags and other valuables.
The 1MDB scandal angered Malaysians, who ousted Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization party or UNMO in the 2018 parliamentary elections. UNMO was the biggest party in a coalition that had ruled Malaysia since gaining independence in 1957.
The charges against Najib were filed by the government led by his successor, Mahathir Mohamad, who led the coalition that defeated Najib’s ruling UNMO coalition. Mahathir ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003 as UNMO’s leader.
But Mahathir’s coalition collapsed in February due to internal divisions, allowing UNMO to return to power by joining a coalition with a party led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.