Year In Review 2020: Twists and turns in the 1MDB saga

Amir Hussain
·Senior Reporter
·5-min read
Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak waves as he leaves the Duta Court complex in Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2020. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail on corruption charges linked to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal that led to the downfall of his government two years ago. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak waves as he leaves the Duta court complex in Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2020. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail on corruption charges linked to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal that led to the downfall of his government two years ago. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

In July, former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was sentenced to 12 years’ jail and fined RM210 million for corruption-related charges linked to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal, which led to the downfall of his government two years ago.

But the 1MDB saga is far from over with the veteran politician out on bail pending an appeal against the verdict. He faces more graft-related charges involving 1MDB funds spread out over several separate trials.

And the 67-year-old remains an MP in the Lower House or Dewan Rakyat, wielding considerable influence and popularity.

As the year comes to a close, here’s a recap of the twists and turns in the 1MDB saga in 2020.

Rosmah Mansor at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on 4 October 2018. (Photo: AP)
Rosmah Mansor at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on 4 October 2018. (Photo: AP)

Taped phone calls released

At a special press conference at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters in early January, 45 minutes of incriminating phone conversations between key players in the 1MDB scandal were played to the press.

The nine phone calls, which took place between January and July 2016 – around the time the US Justice Department began probing 1MDB – involved Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed Zayed Al-Nahyan and several others.

In one clip, Rosmah allegedly directs Najib on how to take charge and manage the 1MDB scandal. “Can I advise you something?,” she purportedly says. “Darling, you are the prime minister, you should take charge not anybody else okay?”

In another clip, Najib allegedly calls Sheikh Mohamed Zayed and pleads for help to deflect money laundering accusations levelled against his stepson Riza Aziz.

The then-chief of the MACC Latheefa Koya said at the press conference, “The contents are shocking; it’s a cover-up and subversion of justice... In the public interest, we’re making public the contents.”

Riza Aziz at Duta Court in Kuala Lumpur on July 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
Riza Aziz at the Duta court complex in Kuala Lumpur on July 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Riza Aziz granted discharge

In May, Najib’s stepson and Hollywood producer Riza Aziz was granted a discharge on five money laundering charges, after he reached a deal with the prosecution for the return of overseas assets worth an estimated US$107.3 million (RM465.3 million) that were allegedly misappropriated from the state fund.

Riza, who is Rosmah’s son and co-founder of Hollywood production house Red Granite Pictures, had been charged last July with receiving a total of US$248,173,104 in 1MDB funds between April 2011 and November 2012. Some of the money was allegedly used to finance Hollywood films including 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”, produced by Red Granite.

The funds were alleged to have flowed in cross-border transactions from the Swiss bank accounts of two companies named in the 1MDB scandal — Good Star Limited and Aabar Investments PJS Limited — to the US bank account of Red Granite Productions Inc and the Singapore bank account of Red Granite Capital Ltd.

The logo for Goldman Sachs appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on 13 December 2016. (Photo: AP)
The logo for Goldman Sachs appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on 13 December 2016. (Photo: AP)

Goldman Sachs strikes deal

In July, Goldman Sachs reached a settlement with the Malaysian government amounting to US$3.9 billion – a cash payment of US$2.5 billion and $1.4 billion in recovered assets.

In return, Malaysia would drop all criminal charges against the bank, which had raised US$6.5 billion in three bond sales between 2012 and 2013 for 1MDB.

Finance Minister Zafrul Aziz said, “This settlement represents assets that rightfully belong to the Malaysian people. We are confident that we are securing more money from Goldman Sachs compared to previous attempts, which were far below expectations.

“We are also glad to be able to resolve this outside the court system, which would have cost a lot of time, money and resources,” he added.

Najib Razak at the Duta Court complex in Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
Najib Razak at the Duta Court complex in Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Najib Razak gets jail term

Najib was handed a 12-year jail term for abuse of power in July. He also received 10 years’ jail on each of three counts of criminal breach of trust and three counts of money laundering.

The verdict involves RM42 million transferred from the state fund to his personal accounts. The jail terms were ordered to run concurrently for a total of 12 years. He was also fined RM210 million.

Evidence during the trial showed a complex trail of ill-gotten money paid for his home renovation, credit card purchases including a Chanel watch bought in Hawaii as a birthday gift for Rosmah, and disbursements to political parties. In his defence, Najib said he assumed the money was part of a donation by the Saudi royal family.

Prosecutors say billions more from 1MDB funds made its way into Najib's personal accounts, over which he still faces pending criminal charges spread over separate trials.

Jho Low in Washington, D.C. on 23 April 2015. (Photo: AP)
Jho Low in Washington, D.C. on 23 April 2015. (Photo: AP)

Jho Low’s recordings leaked

In November, phone recordings of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho were published, revealing conversations that the alleged mastermind behind the 1MDB scandal had with the Malaysian authorities from May to November 2018 as he tried to strike a deal with the then newly elected Pakatan Harapan administration.

Among other things, Low claimed that more than US$1 billion that ended up in Najib’s private bank accounts came from 1MDB and that Rosmah spent more than a half a billion dollars of 1MDB money on jewellery.

The inspector-general of police Abdul Hamid Bador confirmed that Low has been attempting to negotiate with the government for immunity against prosecution since 2018.

Low remains at-large with Interpol Red Notices issued against him. Besides Malaysia, he is also wanted by Singapore and the United States.

Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore

Related stories:

Year in Review 2020: Yahoo Malaysia readers’ most searched Malaysian male personalities

Year in Review 2020: Yahoo Malaysia readers’ most searched Malaysian female personalities