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Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak found guilty in corruption trial, sentenced to 12 years in prison

Najib Razak, Malaysia's former prime minister, arrives at court in Kuala Lumpur on July 28. (Samsul Said/Bloomberg)

Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, was found guilty of money laundering, abuse of power and other charges Tuesday, in connection to allegations that toppled his government two years ago and shook the financial world.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court sentenced him to serve 12 years behind bars and handed down a fine of nearly $50 million, in the first of five trials over graft and money laundering charges tied to investigations into the disappearance of billions of dollars from a state investment fund he co-founded, known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. He faces dozens of charges.

Najib vowed to appeal the verdict. He maintained his innocence throughout the trial, but the judge said Tuesday the prosecution had proved its accusations beyond doubt and Najib, 67, committed the crimes in a “position of trust.” He was granted a stay on his sentence, pending appeal.

The party Najib used to lead rejoined the government in March. Some analysts say his political allies could seek to topple the legal proceedings.

Tuesday’s conviction focused to the illegal transfer of around $10 million from SRC International — a unit under 1MDB. Future trials will center on larger sums.

The guilty verdict marks a deep fall for Najib, who became prime minister in 2009. He was initially seen as a reformist but soon returned to less inclusive policies, focusing on pleasing his party’s traditional party base and consolidating his power in the following years.

Goldman Sachs reaches $3.9 billion settlement in 1MDB scandal

Najib also faces allegations that he hampered efforts to investigate 1MDB.

In May 2018, his ruling National Front coalition was ousted after decades in power. Najib’s challenger, Mahathir Mohamad, became prime minister. Throughout his campaign, Mahathir had vowed to confront corruption in Malaysia’s state institutions.

Najib was charged in July 2018. Prosecutors in the United States and at least five other countries were investigating his role in the scandal.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, high-level officials misappropriated at least $4.5 billion of Malaysia’s state investment fund. Prosecutors said some of the fund were used to buy yachts and homes.

Investigators found luxury goods and cash during raids on properties linked to Najib and his relatives, valued at around $275 million.

At the time, Najib said he believed funds transferred to his account were a donation by the Saudi royal family.

Last week, Goldman Sachs reached a $3.9 billion settlement with Malaysia over charges the bank was involved in the conspiracy to launder money from the investment fund.