PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian court on Monday began hearing an appeal by ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak to overturn his conviction and 12-year jail sentence linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state investment fund that brought down his government in 2018.
The appeal came more than eight months after a high court found Najib guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering, making him the first Malaysian leader to be convicted. He has said he was misled by rogue bankers and that the case against him is political.
The ruling was part of the first of several corruption trials against Najib that are linked to the 1MDB scandal, which sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries. U.S. investigators alleged that over $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB and laundered by Najib’s associates.
Najib, 67, arrived at the Court of Appeal early Monday but didn’t speak to reporters. Najib, who set up 1MDB shortly after taking office in 2009, has denied all wrongdoing and his sentence was stayed pending the appeal.
Defense lawyers say Najib has been denied a fair trial. One of his lawyers, Farhan Read, told The Associated Press that the high court judge made “serious misdirections” in the trial.
Najib’s defense team earlier sought a one-month postponement to give it more time to obtain documentary evidence but the three-member appellate bench rejected the application.
Last July, Najib made brief remarks under oath before his sentencing, saying he wasn’t aware of the 42 million ringgit ($10 million) channeled into his bank accounts from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.
But the judge ruled that Najib’s argument that he was duped by Malaysian fugitive financier Low Taek Jho into believing the money was part of a donation by the Saudi royal family, to keep Najib from being suspicious of 1MDB plundering, was far-fetched and a weak fabrication.
Investigators have identified Low as the mastermind behind the looting of 1MDB and he remains at large.
Najib’s second and third trials involving some of the remaining charges are ongoing. His wife and several officials from his party and previous government have also been charged with graft related to 1MDB corruption.