A Malaysian court is due to rule on Wednesday on former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s appeal against his conviction for corruption in the first case related to the multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB.
Najib, whose term as prime minister ended with defeat at the 2018 elections, was found guilty of diverting an estimated 42 million ringgit ($9.88m) from SRC International, a division of 1MDB, into his personal bank accounts in July last year, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The 68-year-old was allowed bail pending appeal.
The court decision comes as Najib attempts a comeback in a country that has been through three prime ministers since the 1MDB scandal brought down his government. He remains popular within the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is now back in power after their defeat in 2018.
In recent days, Najib and his legal team have sought to introduce new evidence, and on Tuesday asked for a postponement because one member on the team had tested positive for COVID-19. The judge denied the request, and dismissed the application to accept new evidence at an online hearing.
The seven charges in the case involve allegations of abuse of power, several counts of money laundering and criminal breach of trust.
In reaching his guilty verdict last year, Judge Mohamad Nazlan Ghazali said Najib, who was both prime minister and finance minister at the time of the offences, “acted outside the limits of the permissible conduct” in the approval of loans, which later became a source of funds transferred to his account.
He said Najib “benefitted” from the approval of the loans, and that the defence had failed to raise reasonable doubt over the offence of abuse of power.
During the appeal, the defence argued that Najib did not know the money was going into his accounts or that it originated from SRC. They claimed Najib was misled by Malaysian financier Jho Low and other 1MDB officials into believing that the funds in his account were a donation from the Saudi royal family.
Low, whose whereabouts remain unknown, has denied wrongdoing.
The panel of three appeals court judges is due to start sitting at 9am (01:00 GMT).
The United States Department of Justice alleges $4.5bn in government money was drained from 1MDB during Najib’s term in office.
The former prime minister received more than $1bn of the 1MDB funds, according to prosecutors, and faces a total of 42 criminal charges related to the scandal.
Najib is the first Malaysian leader to be found guilty of corruption.
He can appeal Wednesday’s decision on his appeal to the country’s highest court, if the judges decide to uphold the initial ruling.