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Verdict in Najib’s first corruption trial out tomorrow

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian court will hand down its verdict in Najib Razak's first corruption trial tomorrow, nearly 16 months after it began probing the former prime minister's role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Najib, 67, is facing three separate 1MDB-linked trials, and the first finally reaches its climax this week in the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

The case centres on the transfer of RM42 million (S$13.6 million) from former 1MDB unit SRC International into Najib's bank accounts.

He denies any wrongdoing, and his lawyer, Mr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, told Agence France-Presse ahead of the verdict: "I feel good about the defence."

The former leader, who is facing four charges of corruption and three of money laundering in the case, insists he was ignorant of the bank transfers.

His defence team has portrayed Najib as a victim and instead sought to paint financier Low Taek Jho, a key figure in the scandal who has been charged in the US and Malaysia, as the mastermind.

Prosecutors insist Najib was in control of the 1MDB unit and that they have a solid case, but observers believe recent political upheaval in Malaysia could affect the outcome of the trial, which began in April last year.

Najib's scandal-mired party returned to power in March as part of a coalition after a reformist administration collapsed.

Since then, 1MDB-linked charges were unexpectedly dropped against the ex-leader's stepson Riza Aziz, one of the Wolf Of Wall Street producers, in exchange for him agreeing to return assets to Malaysia.

Prosecutors also dropped the charges against Najib's ally, Tan Sri Musa Aman, the former leader of Sabah state.

If Najib - currently free on bail - is convicted tomorrow, he could be sentenced the same day. Each charge of corruption carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, and each money-laundering count is punishable by a term of up to 15 years.

But he is likely to appeal against any conviction and may not be jailed straight away.

If he is found guilty and the conviction is upheld, he would also be barred from political office for several years.

Associate Professor Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia expert from the University of Nottingham, said a conviction will be viewed positively by many for bringing "some accountability on the scandal of 1MDB".

By contrast, an acquittal "will do serious damage to Malaysia's international reputation", she added. - AFP

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