Former PM Testifies About Spending Dirty Money on Gifts

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, testifying this week in a Kuala Lumpur courtroom, said he had the right to use funds prosecutors allege were siphoned from his country’s strategic development fund to buy presents for his wife and for a former leader of Qatar.

Najib Razak MalaysiaNajib Razak, former Malaysian Prime Minister (Photo: Firdaus Latif (CC BY-SA 2.0))Malaysia’s multibillion-dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal involved the alleged skimming and laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars  in some cases apparently used to pay bribes and kickbacks  which were diverted from the government-run strategic development fund. News of the scandal broke in 2015, and details of how the alleged stolen funds were used are now coming out in court. 

Najib said that, at different points, he spent €763,500  (USD $845,000) at jeweler De Grisogono in Italy on gifts for then-Qatar premier Ahmed Jassim Al Thani and his wife. According to the New Straits Times, he felt the gifts justified because of strong diplomatic ties between Malaysia and Qatar.

He also, bought a $130,625 Chanel watch in Hawaii for his own wife, and spent $30,500 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, Bloomberg News reported yesterday. 

“As I said, I think I have the right to use the funds as I see fit,” he said in court. “Again, I’m very careful with regards to expenses.” His controversial spending accounted for just 0.4% of funds deposited into the relevant accounts, he said.

The ongoing trial involves seven of the 42 charges Najib faces. Two other trials also continue, including one involving 1MDB’s overseas transactions and bond sales. 

If convicted, Najib, 66, could face fines and 15 to 20 years imprisonment on each charge.