Malaysian authorities charged Najib Razak, the former prime minister, with three counts of money laundering Wednesday, the latest escalation in an inquiry involving billions of dollars diverted from a state investment fund.
The charges came a day after Malaysia’s attorney general announced that a $250 million yacht, which prosecutors say was bought with money stolen from the fund, had been returned to Malaysia from Indonesia, where it was seized in February.
The new charges are linked to three electronic transfers worth a total of $10 million from a onetime unit of the investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, that prosecutors say were made into Najib’s bank accounts.
That is only a small fraction of the fraud alleged to have been carried out. U.S. prosecutors have said that at least $4.5 billion from the fund, known as 1MDB, was laundered through U.S. financial institutions and misspent by Najib, his family and associates.
Najib, who was ousted in a May election, pleaded not guilty to all three new charges, local news media reported. Reuters reported that each charge carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years, plus fines of at least $1.2 million.
Najib, 65, also pleaded not guilty last month to three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of corruption in connection with the scandal surrounding the state investment fund.
Court documents show that the first of the three wire transfers to Najib’s accounts from SRC International, the onetime unit of the state investment fund, occurred in 2014, two years after SRC was placed under the Finance Ministry’s jurisdiction.
N. Surendran, a former lawmaker who advises Lawyers for Liberty, a Malaysian advocacy group, said that the earlier breach of trust charges against Najib were related to the same money transfers cited in the charges brought Wednesday. “It is almost certain there will be more charges looking at the large amounts and various transactions involving 1MDB moneys,” he said.
U.S. prosecutors have accused Najib of diverting $731 million from 1MDB into his account. They say the money was spent on a parade of luxury items, including a $27.3 million pink diamond necklace, luxury real estate in the United States and paintings by Monet, Warhol, Van Gogh and others worth over $200 million.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Mike Ives © 2018 The New York Times