Malaysian officials will today resume the infamous 1MDB trial, in which former PM Najib Razak faces charges of corruption and embezzlement to the tune of $700 million.
The financial scandal—perpetuated through the sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad—has incriminated multiple high-level government officials, several of Najib’s relatives and 17 current and former Goldman Sachs executives. Sovereign wealth funds are a notoriously unregulated and concentrated means of financing state development; the defendants stand accused of diverting more than $4.5 billion in foreign investment to corrupt officials via fraudulent shell companies.
However, the proceedings thus far, which had been stalled by the judiciary to allow Najib to attend campaign and parliamentary events, suggest that the tides are turning in favour of the former PM. While the vehement backlash from the scandal had originally ousted the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) from power, the restoration of UMNO primacy in March has led prosecutors to drop charges against two principal defendants.
Expect the upcoming ruling to hinge on the sustained appointment of Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Gopal Sri Ram, who has allegedly been installed with the express purpose of delivering a conviction. The appointment is currently threatened by an affidavit from former members of the judiciary and Najib’s own counsel. The disqualification of Sri Ram as DPP could deal a fatal blow to the case against Najib and set the UMNO on a positive trajectory towards brand rehabilitation. The distraction of COVID-19 could shift focus away from the scandal, boost the longevity of Najib’s political dynasty and solidify Malaysia’s reigning culture of kleptocracy.
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Daniel is an analyst and editor on the Current Developments team. He contributes regularly to the Daily Brief, focusing primarily on European, Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan politics.