Investigations

From Malaysian prime minister to a courtroom dock, how Najib Razak fell from grace

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As the first of multiple corruption trials facing former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak gets underway, SBS News examines the Australian links to one of the biggest political corruption scandals in history.

In a Kuala Lumpur court room on Wednesday afternoon, Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak will be in the dock facing allegations of corruption.

Billions of dollars stolen from a state investment fund called 1MDB is alleged to have gone to Mr Najib and those close to him.

For years his allies and family splashed out on luxury handbags, Picasso paintings, financing Hollywood films, mega-yachts and parties, which was allegedly funded by that fund.

In total, investigations spanning the entire globe have alleged over $6 billion dollars was misappropriated from the fund.

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Greens Senator calls for Australian investigation into 1MDB
Greens Senator calls for Australian investigation into 1MDB

The house of cards came tumbling down in May last year, when Mr Najib lost in a shock general election and the new government headed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came to power.

Mr Mahathir promised a swift investigation and to bring to justice those involved in the 1MDB scandal.

Mr Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, also faces corruption charges. Meanwhile the whereabouts of Jho Low, the financer at the centre of the scandal, remains unknown.

Almost a year since the election and what has been dubbed ‘the trial of the century’ is just getting underway, after Mr Najib’s legal team sought several lengthy delays to the start date.

Mr Mahathir promised a swift investigation and to bring to justice those involved in the 1MDB scandal.
Mr Mahathir promised a swift investigation and to bring to justice those involved in the 1MDB scandal.

Mr Najib faces 42 separate charges of money laundering and corruption relating to the 1MDB fund, which will be spread out across several different trials. In total he faces up to 100 years in prison if found guilty.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The scandal, which broke into the public sphere in 2015, has prompted international investigations in the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Singapore.

But in Australia authorities have been muted in their response.

“I think it’s been very lackluster,” Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson told SBS News of the Australian authority’s response to the scandal.

“What’s really important with a scandal like 1MDB and potential Australian involvement in it, is that we learn from this, that’s government, that’s regulators and that’s business itself,” he said.

In response to questions put on notice by Greens Senator Whish-Wilson, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) said they were in touch with Malaysian authorities but were yet to receive a formal request for assistance.

“ASIC has not investigated 1MDB and is not aware of illicit funds being laundered through the Australian financial or banking System,” the statement said.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson has called for authorities to investigate.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson has called for authorities to investigate.
AAP

“ASIC is aware of allegation that 1MDB funds may have been directed into Australia and used to purchase real estate and/or were paid into casinos,” they added.

Senator Whish-Wilson said that response wasn’t good enough, as the scandal has been public for several years.

“There is plenty of impetus there for us to improve things, but also to accept and understand that there are risks here and that we need to investigate those risks,” he said.

Separately, one of Australia’s big four banks has found itself inadvertently caught up in the scandal.

It is claimed millions of dollars allegedly siphoned from 1MDB made its way into Mr Najib’s private bank accounts which were held at the Malaysian bank AmBank.

ANZ has been the single largest shareholder in AmBank since 2006 and appointed key management positions at the bank, as well as being able to hold up to four seats on the 12-seat AmBank board.

Separately, one of Australia’s big four banks has found itself inadvertently caught up in the scandal.
Separately, one of Australia’s big four banks has found itself inadvertently caught up in the scandal.
AAP

At the time of the scandal former ANZ employee Ashok Ramamurthy was the chief executive officer at AmBank.

ANZ’s current CEO Shane Elliott sat on the board of AmBank during the period from 2013 and 2015.

ANZ has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said none of its staff had anything to do with 1MDB or alleged money laundering at AmBank.

In ASIC’s response to Senator Whish-Wilson’s questions, the regulator said ANZ “did not notify ASIC that they were aware of alleged irregular transactions in AmBank in 2014”.

The statement added that ASIC had not undertaken any investigation of ANZ, AmBank or Mr Ramamurthy.

The Greens senator also recently sent a list of questions to Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) to which they replied “AUSTRAC does not comment on specific operations or intelligence,”.

Despite losing power last year and the corruption charges he is facing Mr Najib has remained in the political spotlight, rallying supporters and presenting as a formidable opponent to the new government.

The government will be hoping the multiple corruption trials and the details of the scandal will blunt Mr Najib’s popularity and weaken the former ruling party, which has largely stood behind its former leader.

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