Najib 1MDB trial: Malaysia ex-PM faces court in global financial scandal

Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak has gone on trial for his role in a financial scandal that has sent shockwaves around the world.

He faces seven charges in the first of several criminal cases accusing him of pocketing $681m (£522m) from the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Mr Najib pleaded not guilty to all the charges on Wednesday.

The 1MDB fund was designed to boost Malaysia’s economy through strategic investments.

But instead it allegedly funded lavish lifestyles, a Hollywood film and a super-yacht.

A group of supporters met Mr Najib as he arrived at the court in Kuala Lumpur. They stood and prayed with him before he entered the building to chants of “Long live Najib”.

Mr Najib’s lawyers made a last-minute bid to delay proceedings but the judge ruled against them.

In the prosecution’s opening statement, Malaysia’s Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said the “near absolute power” Mr Najib had wielded carried with it “enormous responsibility”.

“The accused is not above the law,” he added.

While the former prime minister faces several criminal cases, Wednesday’s trial is the first major trial in the scandal.

Proceedings were originally set to begin on 12 February, but were delayed for related appeals to be heard.

Malaysia’s government has also filed criminal charges against Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, accusing the investment bank of defrauding investors by raising money for 1MDB.

The bank has denied all wrongdoing and said it would “vigorously defend the charges”.

What is this trial about?

Mr Najib is facing 42 charges in total, mostly linked to 1MDB.

The first of several trials begins on Wednesday, centring on the allegations that 42m Malaysian ringgit ($10.3m; £7.9m) was transferred from SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, into Mr Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Anti-Najib demonstrators in Malaysia, November 2016
The corruption allegations played a big part in Mr Najib’s 2018 election defeat

The case involves three counts of money laundering, three of criminal breach of trust and one of abuse of power. Mr Najib has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The money involved in this particular trial is thought to be in addition to the $681m that allegedly ended up in his personal accounts.

What’s the background?

Mr Najib set up the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund in 2009, while he was prime minister, to aid the nation’s economic development.

In 2015, questions were raised around its activities after it missed payments owed to banks and bondholders.

The US, one of the countries probing global money laundering, started an investigation saying $4.5bn had been diverted into private pockets.

US prosecutors had previously said a person described as “Malaysian Official 1” had allegedly received $681m from 1MDB. That person was later confirmed to be Mr Najib.

Police officer displays photos of items from a raid during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia June 27, 2018.
Raids on properties linked to Mr Najib uncovered luxury goods worth millions of dollars

Prosecutors said the money had been used to fund a lavish lifestyle for the former PM and his wife Rosmah Mansor, who is also facing charges of corruption.

Mr Najib was cleared of all wrongdoing by Malaysian authorities while he was prime minister.

Nonetheless, the corruption allegations played a big part in his historic election defeat in 2018 – and the new government swiftly reopened investigations into 1MDB.

Police said they had recovered luxury goods and cash from Mr Najib’s properties, and he was arrested by anti-corruption authorities before being freed on bail.

Who else is involved?

Another target of the investigation is Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho – known as Jho Low – who played a key role behind the scenes in 1MDB’s dealings.

He is accused of diverting money to himself and his associates, but has also consistently denied any wrongdoing. His location is unknown.

His infamous $250m luxury super-yacht Equanimity, allegedly purchased with money taken from the fund, was confiscated by authorities in 2018.

On Wednesday a court approved its sale for $126m to casino company Genting Malaysia, the Malaysian attorney general said, making it the largest amount of money the country has managed to recover from the 1MDB losses.

At least six countries including Singapore and the US have launched money laundering and corruption investigations into 1MDB.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs is one of the biggest players embroiled in the scandal.

Malaysia’s government has filed criminal charges against the bank, accusing it of helping to misappropriate money intended for the fund.

Tim Leissner, who served as Goldman Sachs’s South East Asia chairman, pleaded guilty to participating in bribery and money laundering schemes.

Goldman Chief Executive David Solomon apologised to the Malaysian people for Leissner’s role in the scandal, but said the bank had been deceived about the details of the deal.

“We believe these charges are misdirected, will vigorously defend them and look forward to the opportunity to present our case,” the bank said in response to the charges.

Jeffree Star says $2.5m worth of his cosmetic line stolen

US make-up mogul Jeffree Star has revealed that $2.5m (£1.9m) of stock, including unreleased products, was stolen from his company’s warehouse.

Star shared details of the theft in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday.

In the clip he reveals it happened in the early hours of 16 March – alleging a team of “professionals” broke into the Los Angeles facility.

Star has said that local law enforcement and the FBI are investigating the crime.

The 33-year-old said he and investigators believe the products were stolen to be sold onto the black market.

Police have not yet commented publicly on the case.

Star revealed the crime after an unreleased concealer product, which had been under development for a year, began to appear on social media marketplace sites over the weekend.

Fans of the brand had expressed their confusion about the leak.

Born Jeffrey Lynn Steininger, the influencer launched his own beauty brand, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, in 2014.

The internet personality has had a large online fan-base since the days of MySpace and currently has more than 14 million subscribers on YouTube.

Jeffree Star lipsticks
The YouTube’s make-up line (pictured) has more than five million followers on Instagram

Forbes magazine has said he is one of the highest-paid beauty vloggers in the world.

On the video “My Concealer Line Was Stolen & Leaked” posted on his YouTube channel on Wednesday, Star revealed details about the robbery at one of the company’s storage facilities.

He said “thousands” of products were taken and described watching CCTV footage of the crime as “gut-wrenching”.

Images of the alleged crime scene were obtained by US celebrity website TMZ and appear to show a hole was cut through the building’s roof. The dangers of black market counterfeit beauty products

The theft comes one year after thieves were said to have taken $4.5m worth of eyeshadow from an LA warehouse storing Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics.

The global beauty industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and officials are increasingly warning about the dangers of unregulated black market sales.

The FBI has previously warned consumers about counterfeit beauty products, which have been found to contain substances like arsenic that are hazardous to health.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika: Algerian leader resigns amid protests

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned after weeks of massive street protests.

Mr Bouteflika, who has been in power for 20 years, had already dropped plans to seek a fifth term as opposition to his rule grew.

The powerful Algerian army had called for the 82-year-old to be declared incapable of carrying out his duties.

Protesters have vowed to continue piling on pressure until the entire government is ousted.

The BBC’s adekunle best in Algiers says there were huge celebrations in the city, with people shouting, waving the national flag and honking their car horns all night.

He says the protesters do not only want Mr Bouteflika to go, but the whole system, in particular the government which was only appointed last weekend.

“This is just a little victory – the biggest is still to come,” one protester said.

Mr Bouteflika, who has been ill since he suffered a stroke six years ago, has avoided public events ever since.

However, he made a rare appearance on state TV to relinquish power hours after military chief Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah called on him to leave office immediately.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika hands over power
State TV broadcast President Bouteflika handing in his resignation letter to the Constitutional Council’s President Tayeb Belaiz

One man, Selmaoui Seddik, told Reuters: “God willing, we will have a 100% democratic transition, this is very important. We need to remove the whole previous regime and that is the hardest thing.”

However, one protest leader, Mustapha Bouchachi, said before the announcement that any decision by Mr Bouteflika to quit would still change nothing and that the protests would continue.

People wave Algeria's national flags in Algiers. Photo: 2 April 2019
People sang as they celebrated in Algiers
A small child draped in Algeria's national flag celebrates in Algiers. Photo: 2 April 2019
Many Algerians took their children to mark a historic occasion

News of the resignation came in a statement carried on state news agency APS.

“The president of the republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has officially notified the president of the constitutional council of his decision to end his mandate as president of the republic,” it said.

State TV then reported that this would be with immediate effect.

According to the constitution, the Senate speaker should take over as interim head of state until fresh elections are held.

How did it come about?

Pressure had been building since February, when the first demonstrations were sparked by Mr Bouteflika’s announcement that he would be standing for a fifth term.

Tens of thousands protested across the country on 1 March. Mr Bouteflika’s promise not to serve out a fifth term if re-elected, along with a change of prime minister, failed to quell the discontent.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has led Algeria since 1999

Leaders of the protests also rejected Mr Bouteflika’s offer this week that he would go by the end of his current term – 28 April – as not quick enough.

It seems the powerful military agreed. Its chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah, said earlier on Tuesday: “There is no more room to waste time.”

What next?

The demonstrations have also called for the whole political system, in which the military plays a significant role, to be overhauled.

Many of the protesters are young and say they want a new system of government.

There were accusations that Mr Bouteflika was being used as a front by “le pouvoir” – a group of businessmen, politicians and military officials – to retain their power.

Mr Bensalah (l) during his recent visit to Tunisia for the Arab Summit
Mr Bensalah (l), who is expected to take over as caretaker president, has been representing the ailing leader at public events

Elections originally scheduled for 18 April were postponed and the governing National Liberation Front (FLN) vowed to organise a national conference on reforms.

The FLN has ruled Algeria since the country won independence from France in 1962 after seven years of conflict.

Mr Bouteflika, who came to power in 1999, strengthened his grip after a bloody civil war against Islamist insurgents which left 150,000 dead.

The chairman of the upper house of parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, is expected to become caretaker president for three months until elections.

Mr Bensalah has been in post since 2002 and has represented Mr Bouteflika at official visits and events.

He also shares a similar background with the president, growing up in neighbouring Morocco before returning to fight in the liberation war.

Who is Bouteflika?

He is a veteran of Algeria’s war of independence who served as foreign minister for more than a decade before becoming president in 1999.

His primary task was to rebuild the country, and its economy – but first, he needed to end Algeria’s brutal civil war sparked by the military’s refusal to recognise the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in the early 1990s.

Despite guaranteeing stability in the oil-rich nation, his government has been accused of widespread corruption and state repression.

The man who once said he would not accept being “three-quarters a president” spent his last years in a wheelchair after a stroke in 2013, rarely appearing in public, and fuelling fierce debate over who was really in charge, the BBC’s North Africa correspondent, Rana Jawad, says.

Revolutionaries praise him for welcoming Che Guevara to Algeria, and giving a young Nelson Mandela his first military training.

Brunei implements stoning to death under new anti-LGBT laws

Brunei is introducing strict new Islamic laws that make anal sex and adultery offences punishable by stoning to death.

The new measures, that come into force on Wednesday, also cover a range of other crimes including punishment for theft by amputation.

The move has sparked international condemnation.

Brunei’s gay community has expressed shock and fear at the “medieval punishments”.

“You wake up and realise that your neighbours, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn’t think you’re human, or is okay with stoning,” one Bruneian gay man, who did not want to be identified, told the BBC.

The sultan of the small south-east Asian nation on Wednesday called for “stronger” Islamic teachings.

“I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger,” Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said at a public address, according to AFP news agency, without mentioning the new laws.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Muslims make up about two-thirds of the country’s population of 420,000. Brunei has retained the death penalty but has not carried out an execution since 1957.

What is punishable under the changes to the penal code?

The law mostly applies to Muslims, including children who have reached puberty, though some aspects will apply to non-Muslims.

Under the new laws, individuals accused of certain acts will only be convicted if they confess or if there were witnesses present.

Individuals who have not reached puberty but are convicted of certain offences may be instead subjected to whipping.

What has global reaction been?

Sultan Hassanal heads the Brunei Investment Agency, which owns some of the world’s top hotels including the Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

Brunei’s ruling royals possess a huge private fortune and its largely ethnic-Malay residents enjoy generous state handouts and pay no taxes.

But Hollywood actor George Clooney and other celebrities have now called for a boycott of the luxury hotels. TV host Ellen DeGeneres also called for people to “rise up”, saying “we need to do something now”.

A honorary degree awarded by the UK’s University of Aberdeen to Sultan Hassanal is also under review now.

Is this the first time Islamic law is being introduced in Brunei?

The country first introduced Sharia law in 2014 despite widespread condemnation, giving it a dual legal system with both Sharia and Common Law. The sultan had said then that the new penal code would come into full force over several years.

The first phase, which covered crimes punishable by prison sentences and fines, was implemented in 2014. Brunei had then delayed introducing the final two phases, which cover crimes punishable by amputation and stoning.

Sultan Hassanal, 2013
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the prime minister of Brunei, is among the wealthiest people in the world

But on Saturday, the government released a statement on its website saying the Sharia penal code would be fully implemented on Wednesday.

In the days since, there has been international outrage and calls for the country to reverse course.

“These abusive provisions received widespread condemnation when plans were first discussed five years ago,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International.

“Brunei’s penal code is a deeply flawed piece of legislation containing a range of provisions that violate human rights.”

The United Nations echoed the statement, calling the legislation “cruel, inhuman and degrading”, saying it marked a “serious setback” for human rights protection.

According to rights group Human Rights Without Frontiers, stoning is still a punishment in countries such as Iran, Somalia and Sudan among others.

Why is this being implemented now?

There are several theories, but Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, said it could be linked to Brunei’s weakening economy.

“One theory is that it is a way for the government to strengthen its hold on power in the face of a declining economy that could potentially lead to some unrest in future,” Mr Woolfe told the BBC.

“Connected to this is [Brunei’s] interest in attracting more investment from the Muslim world, along with more Islamic tourists… this could be seen as one way of appealing to this market.”

In this picture taken on April 1, 2019 children perform ablution before praying at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan
One rights group says the tightening Sharia laws might be a way for the government to strengthen its hold on power

Mr Woolfe also added that the government might have hoped to get away with the latest roll-out without anyone realising.

“I think that the government did want to ensure that the international uproar that followed implementation of the first phase in 2014 had well and truly died down before further [implementation], in the hope it would just quietly [do so] without anyone realising,” he said.

“It wasn’t until increasing international attention that it finally came out and confirmed [this].”

The penal code changes were posted on the attorney general’s website in December but only came to public attention in late March. There was no public announcement.

How are people in Brunei reacting?

One 40-year-old gay Bruneian currently seeking asylum in Canada, said the impact of the new penal code was already being felt in Brunei.

The ex-government employee, who left Brunei last year after being charged with sedition for a Facebook post that was critical of the government, said people were “afraid”.

“The gay community in Brunei has never been open but when Grindr (a gay dating app) came that helped people meet in secret. But now, what I’ve heard is that hardly anyone is using Grindr anymore,” Shahiran S Shahrani Md told the BBC.

“They’re afraid that they might talk to a police officer pretending to be gay. It hasn’t happened yet but because of the new laws, people are afraid,” he said.

Another male Bruneian, who is not gay but has renounced Islam, said he felt “fearful and numb” in the face of the laws being implemented.

“We ordinary citizens are powerless to stop Sharia law from being implemented,” said the 23-year-old who did not want to be identified.

“Under Sharia, I would face the death penalty for apostasy.”

One gay man was hopeful that the laws may not actually be enforced widely.

“Honestly, I’m not too scared as the government here often bluffs with the harsh punishments. But it can and will still happen even with it being rare.”

Brexit: May to meet Corbyn to tackle deadlock

Theresa May will meet Jeremy Corbyn later to see whether there is common ground to break the Brexit deadlock, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay says.

He said the “remorseless logic” of MP numbers in the House of Commons meant the UK was heading for an “undesirable” soft Brexit – closer links with the EU.

There were no preconditions for the talks, he said, but it was not a “blank cheque” either.

Mr Corbyn says he wants a customs union and workers’ rights to be priorities.

BBC political editor Emmanuel said there was not much difference between the government’s version of Brexit and Labour’s version, but there did not seem to be “an enormous amount of confidence” a political consensus could be reached from either party.

The PM’s move to hold talks has angered some Brexiteers, with Wales Minister Nigel Adams resigning his role.

Nigel Adams
Nigel Adams told the PM: “You and your cabinet have decided that a deal – cooked up with a Marxist who has never once in his political life put British interest first – is better than no deal.”

Mr Adams said the government was at risk of failing to deliver “the Brexit people voted for” and failing to prevent “the calamity of a Corbyn government”.

Prominent Brexiteer Boris Johnson has accused Mrs May of “entrusting the final handling of Brexit to Labour”.

And Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs, described the offer as “deeply unsatisfactory” and accused Mrs May of planning to collaborate with “a known Marxist”.

But Mr Barclay blamed hard Brexiteers in the ERG who refused to back the PM’s deal.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s regrettable that what we have been saying for several months now is coming to pass but that is the remorseless logic of not backing the prime minister’s deal.

Brexit:_How_do_you_delay_leaving?

“Because the alternative then is to have to seek votes from the opposition benches because 35 of my own colleagues would not support the prime minister’s deal.”

Mr Barclay said the consequence of MPs not passing the PM’s deal was either a “soft Brexit or no Brexit at all”.

“It [a soft Brexit] is undesirable but it’s the remorseless logic of the numbers of the House of Commons,” he said.

He said the EU has said the withdrawal agreement is the only deal available, but he said Labour had expressed more concern about the future relationship – which is contained within the separate political declaration.

The withdrawal agreement includes how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights – as well as the controversial Irish backstop that aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The political declaration sets out proposals for how the UK’s long term future relationship with the EU will work after Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn: “I recognise that she has made a move… I recognise my responsibility”

Mrs May announced her plan to meet Mr Corbyn – as well as her intention to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline – after more than seven hours of talks with her cabinet on Tuesday.

Mr Corbyn said he was “very happy” to meet Mrs May and recognised his own “responsibility” to try to break the deadlock.

But the meeting is not expected to take place before this afternoon, at the earliest, says our political editor, who was told by Mr Corbyn’s team that he was not available on Wednesday morning for talks with the PM.

Later in Parliament

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of MPs will attempt to push through legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit.

If passed into law, the bill – presented by Labour MP Yvette Cooper – would require the PM to ask for an extension of Article 50 beyond that deadline.

House of Commons: Wednesday’s approx timings for cross-party bill

14:00 BST – Debate on a bill designed to ensure the government seeks a delay to Article 50 and stop no deal in law due to begin

19:00 – A second reading vote on the bill

22:00 – Committee stage starts (this stage usually starts within a couple of weeks of a bill’s second reading) and finally third reading vote

Thursday – Bill is expected to be considered by the House of Lords

The UK has until 12 April to propose a plan to the EU – which must be accepted by the bloc – or it will leave without a deal on that date.

Mrs May said she wanted to agree a new plan with Mr Corbyn and put it to a vote in the Commons before 10 April – when the EU will hold an emergency summit on Brexit.

She insisted her withdrawal agreement – which was voted down last week – would remain part of the deal.

If there is no agreement, Mrs May said a number of options would be put to MPs “to determine which course to pursue”.

In either event, Mrs May said she would ask the EU for a further short extension to hopefully get an agreement passed by Parliament before 22 May, so the UK does not have to take part in European elections.

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, who has previously said he thought a no-deal Brexit was “nearly inevitable”, welcomed Mrs May’s offer of talks with Mr Corbyn.

“Good that PM Theresa may is looking for a cross-party compromise. Better late than never,” he tweeted.

She was for budging. The prime minister has made her priority leaving the EU with a deal, rather than the happy contentment of the Brexiteers in the Tory party.

For so long, Theresa May has been derided by her rivals, inside and outside, for cleaving to the idea that she can get the country and her party through this process intact.

But after her deal was defeated at the hands of Eurosceptics, in the words of one cabinet minister in the room during Tuesday’s marathon session, she tried delivering Brexit with Tory votes – Tory Brexiteers said “No”.

Now she’s going to try to deliver Brexit with Labour votes. In a way, it is as simple as that.

Labour has previously said it has five tests for judging any final Brexit deal including protecting workers’ rights, establishing a permanent customs union with the EU and securing the same benefits of being in the single market the UK has currently.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told the Today programme that Labour was approaching the conversations with “an open mind”.

Boris Johnson: Brexit process ‘disintegrating’

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which helps prop up Mrs May’s government but has repeatedly voted against her deal – said: “It remains to be seen if sub-contracting out the future of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn, someone whom the Conservatives have demonised for four years, will end happily.”

After Mrs May’s statement, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called for patience.

European leaders have been intensifying plans to cope with a possible no-deal, particularly surrounding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Presentational grey line
Flowchart on next steps
  • Wednesday 3 April: Theresa May likely to begin talks with Jeremy Corbyn; cross-party group attempts to rule out no-deal in law
  • Wednesday 10 April: Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider any UK request for further extension
  • Friday 12 April: Brexit day, if UK does not seek / EU does not grant further delay
  • 23-26 May: European Parliamentary elections
Brexit: May to meet Corbyn to tackle deadlock