SINGAPORE — Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was charged Wednesday as part of an investigation into the disappearance of billions of dollars from a state investment fund he founded, a Malaysian task force and media reports said.
The special task force looking into wrongdoing at the state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), said in a statement that Najib was arrested Tuesday in connection with a former 1MDB unit. Media reports said he was brought before a court in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on Wednesday morning and charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of using his position for gratification.
The former prime minister is under investigation over a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at 1MDB. Prosecutors in at least six countries, including the United States, have been investigating Najib’s possible role in the missing funds.
A lawyer on Najib’s legal team would not comment on the charges or on whether Najib would enter a plea, and said his guilt was “up to the courts to decide.”
Najib has denied any wrongdoing and has said he believed the suspicious funds transferred into his account were a donation from the Saudi royal family.
Najib, as Malaysia’s prime minister, wielded significant power over the state’s institutions and quashed an investigation into misappropriation of 1MDB funds.
But in a major blow for Najib and his United Malays National Organization, a May 9 election put in place a government determined to weed out corruption and address Malaysia’s fiscal troubles.
Najib’s successor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad — who once mentored Najib — had used the 1MDB affair as a major campaign tool and blamed Najib for Malaysia’s swelling deficit and deep financial problems.
The election result ousted the ruling coalition for the first time since independence, ushering in a new era in Malaysian politics.
The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that at least $4.5 billion is missing from the state fund, siphoned off to Najib’s family and associates.
In raids on his house, police found cash and luxury goods, including handbags and jewelry, valued at $273 million. The task force has also frozen more than 400 bank accounts it believes to be connected to the misappropriation of money from the state fund.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the scandal was “kleptocracy at its worst.”