February 18, 2019
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Malaysian court delays former PM Najib's trial

 Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec. 12, 2018. EPA-EFE/FILE/FAZRY ISMAIL

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec. 12, 2018. EPA-EFE/FILE/FAZRY ISMAIL

Bangkok, Feb 11 (efe-epa).- A Malaysian court on Monday decided to delay the trial of a former prime minister in a graft case related to a multi-billion dollar financial scandal that contributed in his shocking election defeat last year.

A three-judge panel in a last minute unanimous decision accepted the application by Najib Razak's lawyers, who wanted a stay on trial pending the disposal of his appeals, Malaysia's official news agency Bernama said.

Najib had filed applications in the Court of Appeal over procedural issues in the run-up to the trial that was supposed to take place on Tuesday.

"We are satisfied that the applicant (Najib) had shown special circumstances for a stay to be granted," said Justice Ahmadi Asnawi who chaired the bench.

The judge said the court did not find evidence of delaying tactics as claimed by the public prosecutor.

Najib faces years in prison if he is convicted on charges relating to scandal in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad -- the sovereign state fund he set up and allegedly embezzled billions of dollars from.

The 1MDB was set up in 2009 as a state investment fund to attract investment projects and other developments to the Southeast Asian country. The fund ended up accumulating losses of 42 billion ringgit.

The former prime minister is charged with 42 counts of corruption.

Najib, once the most powerful politician in the country, and his associates are accused of diverting $4.5 billion from the 1MDB wealth fund.

The scandal was a major factor that contributed to Najib's historic defeat in the May 2018 elections, when his party, the powerful United Malays National Organization, suffered its first loss since the country's independence from Britain.

The 65-year-old, who served as prime minister from 2009 to 2018, is accused of diverting 2.6 billion ringgit ($681 million at the time) to private accounts, an undercover investigation by the Wall Street Journal and the Sarawak Report found in 2015.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) formally charged Najib with criminal breach of trust and abuse of power last summer, shortly after the polls.

He denies the allegations, claiming the embezzled funds were a donation from a Saudi prince, an explanation that was initially accepted by 1MDB, the MACC and the then-attorney general, who initially exonerated him. The case was reopened following his defeat in the election.

The alleged embezzlement and laundering of funds diverted from 1MDB are being investigated in half a dozen countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

The United States Department of Justice estimates that about $4.5 billion was diverted from the 1MDB, $1 billion of which may have been laundered in the country with the purchase of real estate, yachts, jewelry, and works of art among other goods.

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