KUALA LUMPUR: The trial of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak will start on Feb 12 next year.
He faces charges of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power as well as money laundering. All the charges relate to an alleged transfer of RM42 million (US$10.3 million) into Najib’s personal bank account from SRC International, a former unit of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The Kuala Lumpur High Court on Friday (Aug 10) set the trial dates as Feb 12 to Feb 28 and Mar 4 to Mar 29.
State prosecutors said they expect to call around 50 witnesses.
The High Court also dismissed Najib’s application for a gag order on the media which his lawyers said was to prevent "prejudicial" discussions of the case.
In passing his judgment, Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said the application violates freedom of speech, and that there are existing laws against those who overstep in their reporting.
“Decisions on the case will be made based on evidence presented in court and nothing else.
“Freedom of speech is curtailed by and subjected to existing laws on contempt and defamation, which already provides a safeguard and can be pursued if there is any wrongdoing," said the judge as reported by the Malay Mail.
The former prime minister was slapped with extra charges – three counts of money laundering – on Wednesday.
He pleaded not guilty.
The money laundering charges relate to electronic transfers amounting to RM42 million from SRC International into Najib’s personal bank account.
The offence carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail and a fine of not less than five times the value of the proceeds of any illegal transfers, or RM5 million, whichever is higher.
The criminal breach of trust and abuse of power charges carry sentences of 20 years each.
In court, Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah argued for a gag order on any comments suggesting that his client was guilty.
"I don’t think there’s been a case – not even Anwar Ibrahim – where publicity pre-trial has been so immense, suggesting Najib is guilty of offences."
Shafee also read out examples of public comments posted online which were critical of the former leader.
"You’re a better actor than Dr M," said one comment, referring to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Another comment read: "Good for you, more of your family members die soon, including you."
The scandal at 1MDB fully erupted in 2015 after media reports that hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB were diverted to his personal accounts.
Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that those funds were donations from a Saudi royal, and that the bulk of them had been given back.
He and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been barred from leaving the country since he lost an election in May, and the new prime minister, his mentor-turned-foe, Mahathir, relaunched an investigation into 1MDB.