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Malaysia ex-PM Najib’s biggest 1MDB trial begins

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia's ex-prime minister Najib

Razak played a pivotal role in plundering the state's 1MDB fund and

channelled hundreds of millions of dollars into his own bank account, a

prosecutor said Wednesday at the opening of his most significant graft trial.

Claims that Najib and his cronies pilfered massive sums from the fund and

spent it on everything from real estate to artwork contributed to the defeat

of his long-ruling coalition to a reformist alliance.

After losing power last year, the former prime minister was arrested and

hit with dozens of charges related to 1MDB. He is expected to face several

trials.

The first started in April but Wednesday's is the biggest, with Najib

accused of 21 counts of money-laundering and four of abuse of power, centring

on allegations that he illicitly obtained 2.28 billion ringgit ($540 million)

from 1MDB.

Opening the trial, lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram told the High Court in

Kuala Lumpur that Najib was a key player in the plunder of 1Malaysia

Development Berhad, a fund established with the ostensible aim of boosting

Malaysia's economy.

His objective was to enrich himself, the prosecutor told the packed

courtroom, as he outlined a series of complex financial transactions between

2011 and 2014 he said were used to funnel cash to Najib.

Najib � who was also finance minister � put himself in sole control of

the fund's important affairs and used his position to exert influence over

the board of 1MDB to carry out certain abnormal transactions with undue

haste.

Gopal said the former premier was the mirror image of fugitive financier

Jho Low, who has been charged in both Malaysia and the United States.

Jho Low and the accused acted as one at all material times, he said. Low

held no official positions at 1MDB but was believed to have exerted huge

influence over its operations.

In addition, Najib took active steps to evade justice. He interfered with

the course of investigation of this case, Gopal said.

� Crucial part of 1MDB saga �

The 66-year-old, who was in court for the start of the trial, denies all

the charges.

The case relates to a crucial part of the 1MDB saga.

When reports surfaced in 2015 that huge sums linked to the fund had flowed

into Najib's bank account, it dramatically ratcheted up pressure on the

leader and his inner circle.

The attorney-general later cleared Najib of any wrongdoing, saying the

money was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family, and closed down

domestic investigations.

As allegations surrounding the fund multiplied, Najib became increasingly

authoritarian, jailing political opponents and introducing laws that critics

said were aimed at stifling dissent.

Prosecutors plan to call about 60 witnesses in a trial that is likely to be

lengthy and complex but Najib's lawyers have complained they have not had

sufficient time to prepare for such a major case.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case Tuesday in Najib's first trial, which

involves the theft of 42 million ringgit from a former unit of 1MDB. The

judge will rule in November whether it is strong enough to continue.

The new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Najib's mentor-

turned-nemesis, came to power partly on a pledge to probe 1MDB and has been

keen to push ahead with the cases against the toppled leader.

The US Department of Justice, which is seizing assets in America allegedly

bought with looted 1MDB money, believes that $4.5 billion was stolen from the

fund.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs is also under scrutiny over 1MDB as it helped

arrange bond issues for the fund. Malaysia claims large amounts were

misappropriated in the process and has filed charges against the bank and

some current and former executives.

The bank has vowed to fight the charges.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)