Malaysian ex-PM Najib starts appeal over 1MDB conviction

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on Monday began an appeal against his conviction on corruption charges and 12-year jail term linked to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

Malaysia former prime minister Najib Razak (C) arrives at the court of appeal in Putrajaya on April 5, 2021. Mohd Rasfan / AFP

Najib was found guilty last year on all counts in the first of several trials he is facing related to the looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad sovereign wealth fund.

The 67-year-old, who remains free on bail, and his cronies were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.

On Monday, Najib began his first challenge at the Court of Appeal, declining to comment to reporters as he arrived.

"There is a total breach of fair trial — unheard of," defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told the court as proceedings got under way.

"We have a mess, so we have to deal with it."

Anger at the plunder played a large part in the shock loss of Najib's long-ruling coalition at elections in 2018, and he was arrested and hit with dozens of charges following his defeat.

Following a lengthy trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money-laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit to his bank accounts.

As well as the jail term, he was fined almost $50 million. He denies any wrongdoing.

During the appeal, set to run until April 22, Najib's lawyers will argue he had no knowledge of the transactions into his accounts.

They are seeking to portray him as a victim and blame financier Low Taek Jho — a key figure in the scandal who has been charged in the United States and Malaysia — as the mastermind.

Low, whose current whereabouts are unknown, maintains his innocence.

If he loses the appeal, Najib still has a final chance to challenge the conviction at Malaysia's top court.

Najib's conviction came even after his scandal-plagued party returned to power following the collapse of a reformist administration, headed by Mahathir Mohamad, that ousted him at the 2018 polls.

The amounts involved in his first case are small compared with those in his second and most significant trial, which centres on allegations he illicitly obtained more than $500 million.

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