Malaysia’s Ex-Leader, Najib Razak, Is Charged in Corruption Inquiry

Malaysia’s Ex-Leader, Najib Razak, Is Charged in Corruption Inquiry

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia who was ousted in an election two months ago, was charged by anticorruption officials on Wednesday, after his arrest in an investigation involving billions of dollars diverted from a state investment fund.

He was charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of corruption in connection with the investment fund scandal. He pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Atop a political machine that had governed Malaysia since its independence in 1957, Mr. Najib and his allies used political influence, cash handouts and news media repression to try to keep corruption accusations at bay for years.

But in May, voter anger over the scandal at the investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, led to a sweeping victory for a sprawling opposition movement that came together to oust Mr. Najib.

In a statement, a Malaysian government task force investigating the 1MDB affair said that Mr. Najib had been arrested in connection with SRC International, a onetime subsidiary of 1MDB. In late May, Mr. Najib was questioned for five hours on how tens of millions of dollars from SRC International appeared to have ended up in his private bank account.

The Malaysian police said last week that they had seized cash, jewelry, purses and other valuables worth as much as $273 million from properties of Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah. The catalog of seized jewelry included 567 handbags, 2,200 rings and 14 tiaras.

Mr. Mahathir, who was inaugurated as prime minister in May, described Mr. Najib, his former protégé, as a “kleptocrat” in an interview with The New York Times.

“It is obvious that he has stolen money,” Mr. Mahathir said. “We have enough evidence. It’s not a question of seeking revenge, no. It is just the application of the rule of law.”

Mr. Najib is the son of one Malaysian prime minister and the nephew of another. With his gilded upbringing, among the elite of the United Malays National Organization, Malaysia’s longtime governing party, he seemed destined for leadership.

But even before he became prime minister in 2009, scandal dogged him.

The Mongolian mistress of one of his aides was killed in 2006, and two of Mr. Najib’s bodyguards were convicted of her murder. Mr. Najib has also been investigated by French officials in connection to $130 million in kickbacks on a deal to purchase French submarines.

The 1MDB scandal surfaced in 2015, and American prosecutors say that money diverted from the fund was spent on staggering acquisitions, such as a $250 million yacht owned by a friend of Mr. Najib’s stepson.

Malaysian investigators are also looking into whether money from 1MDB was used to fund Mr. Najib’s re-election campaign.

Mr. Mahathir said that in a private conversation in 2015, Mr. Najib told him that “cash is king,” a reference to money politics in Malaysia.

“When he said that cash is king,” Mr. Mahathir said of Mr. Najib, “what he was saying is that corruption is O.K.”

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