BANGKOK – Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday to tampering with a 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund audit report.
Najib, 65, was charged with using his position to order changes in 1MDB’s final audit report in February 2016, months after he was accused of diverting money from the state fund to his private accounts.
The charges claim that Najib sought personal gain by trying to avoid legal or disciplinary action against him in relation to 1MDB, the official Bernama news agency reported.
Earlier, then-president and CEO of 1MDB, Arul Kanda Kandasamy, 42, was charged in the same Kuala Lumpur court with abetting Najib.
Both pleaded not guilty to the indictments, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The new indictment raises the total number of charges against the Najib to 39 since his removal from power in the May elections.
He served as prime minister of Malaysia since 2009 – the year he set up 1MDB as an investment arm of the state.
The 1MDB corruption scandal was revealed in 2015 by an investigation carried out by The Wall Street Journal and the Sarawak Report that revealed the diversion of 2.6 billion ringgit ($681 million at the time) to his private accounts.
Najib claimed that the money was a donation from a Saudi prince, and the prosecution, the Anti-Corruption Commission along with the fund exonerated him of any crime.
The United States Department of Justice estimates that about $4.5 billion was diverted from the 1MDB, $1 billion of which may have been laundered in the country with the purchase of real estate, yachts, jewelry, and works of art among other goods.