KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian premier Najib Razak’s trial over a massive financial scandal that contributed to his government’s downfall was postponed on Monday, in a blow to slow-moving efforts to bring the disgraced politician to justice.
Najib had been due to go on trial on Tuesday for the first time over allegations linked to his involvement in the looting of Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a fraud that reverberated around the world. Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen by Najib and his cronies from 1MDB, which was set up to help develop Malaysia’s economy, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to expensive artworks.
The ex-leader’s lawyers filed an application for the trial to be delayed pending an appeal on a technical matter. The Court of Appeal on Monday agreed to the postponement for an unspecified period, said V. Sithambaram, a criminal lawyer on the prosecution team. “It won’t be delayed too long,” he said, adding he hoped the appeal would only take a week or two.
Getting legal proceedings underway will relieve pressure on the new government amid growing public unease about slow progress on 1MDB, although observers say that Najib’s defence team has been using delaying tactics. James Chin, a Malaysia specialist at the University of Tasmania, said the postponement was a “huge setback” for the new government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. “They needed the trial to regain support from the public,” he said.
As he awaits trial, Najib has gone on a bizarre publicity blitz in recent weeks, performing a cover of a 1970s R&B hit accompanied by backing singers, attacking the new government on social media and seeking to present himself as a man of the people.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2019