Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s legal woes are mounting over the multi-billion dollar embezzlement scandal of the country’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
Najib was charged Wednesday with three counts of money laundering involving the transfer of $10 million into his personal bank accounts from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB. Each count carries a 15-year prison term and a fine of not less than five times the amount stolen. He pleaded not guilty to each of those charges during Wednesday’s hearing.
The 64-year-old Najib was charged last month with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of corruption over the 1MDB scandal. Each of those counts carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. He has also pleaded innocent to the earlier charges.
Najib is at the center of a probe into allegations of embezzlement from 1MDB, which he created while in office. The U.S. Justice Department says a total of $4.5 billion was looted from the investment fund, some of which allegedly landed in Najib’s personal bank accounts.
The scandal led to a stunning electoral loss in May of Najib’s National Front coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since gaining independence in 1957 — 22 of those years under 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who led the coalition that ousted Najib and the National Front.
Since his ouster, Najib has been barred from leaving Malaysia and questioned by the government’s anti-graft agency along with his wife, Rosmah Mansor. Days before his arrest, Malaysian police said they had seized nearly $275 million in cash, jewelry and luxury handbags in raids on properties linked to Najib.
In a related development, a $250 million luxury yacht allegedly paid for with money looted from 1MDB returned to Malaysia Tuesday from Indonesia, where it was seized by authorities off the resort island of Bali in February at the request of the U.S. Justice Department.
The 90-meter vessel dubbed Equanimity, which is equipped with a swimming pool, gym, helicopter landing pad and movie theater, was bought by Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, a close associate of Najib’s. Malaysian authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Low Taek Jho.