KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak pleaded not guilty to criminal charges on Wednesday related to a probe into allegations of corruption at state fund 1MDB, less than two months after he was ousted in a stunning election.
Najib, 64, nodded as he was charged with abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust as part of an investigation into a transaction involving SRC International, a former unit of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Each of the four charges carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. The abuse of power charge carries a fine of not less than five times the “value of gratification”.
Najib was granted bail set at 1 million ringgit ($247,000).
“As a public official, which is prime minister and minister of finance, used your position for self gratification (for a) total of 42 million ringgit,” Attorney General Tommy Thomas said referring to the abuse of power charge.
The charges relate to funds that allegedly went from SRC International into Najib’s personal bank account, but are only a fraction of the billions of dollars the U.S. Department of Justice has said was misappropriated from 1MDB.
Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB.
In a stunning fall from grace, Najib was arrested at his home on Tuesday as part of the investigations into 1MDB revived by his successor and mentor-turned-foe Mahathir Mohamad since the surprise May 9 election.
Some of Najib’s children were present in court.
Najib, who spent the night in detention, arrived at the court complex in the capital Kuala Lumpur wearing a dark blue suit and a red tie.
Crowds of media and onlookers jostled to catch a glance of the former premier, while some members of Najib’s UMNO party chanted and held up placards in support of their former leader.
Najib came to power in 2009 and soon founded 1MDB which is being investigated in at least six countries for alleged money laundering.
SRC, created in 2011 by Najib’s government to pursue overseas investments in energy resources, was a unit of 1MDB until it was moved to the finance ministry in 2012.
SRC has been the initial focus of Malaysian investigators as all the suspicious transactions involving the firm were made through Malaysian entities, unlike other 1MDB related transactions that went through foreign banks and companies.
A spokesman for Najib said on Tuesday that the SRC charges and the 1MDB investigations were “politically motivated”, and Najib will contest the charges and clear his name in court.
Mahathir told Reuters last month that embezzlement and bribery using government money were among the charges being considered against Najib, adding that his former protege was fully responsible for the 1MDB scandal.
Since his election loss, Najib has been barred from leaving the country and investigators have seized luxury handbags, jewellery and other items worth millions of dollars from properties linked to his family.
In a pre-recorded message posted on Twitter after his arrest, Najib said he was not perfect and “not all the accusations against me and my family are true.
“Let investigations be carried out. I have not had a chance to defend myself,” he said.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; writing by John Geddie and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Robert Birsel.