Malaysian court to rule on graft case of jailed ex-PM’s wife

The wife of jailed ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak was in court Thursday for a verdict in her corruption trial involving a 1.25 billion ringgit ($279 million) solar energy project, just days after her husband was imprisoned over the looted 1MDB state fund.

Rosmah Mansor faces three charges of soliciting bribes and receiving 6.5 million ringgit ($1.5 million) between 2016 and 2017 to help a company secure a project to provide solar energy panels to schools on Borneo island.

Before the verdict is delivered, the court heard an application by Rosmah to disqualify High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan. Rosmah cited a loss of confidence in the judge after a 71-page document was leaked last Friday on a website that allegedly contained a guilty judgment against her. She said she was shocked to read it was not written by the judge himself but by unknown people in the court’s “research unit.”

Rosmah, 70, said she was not confident that the judge can be fair as he may be influenced by third parties. She is asking Zaini to recuse himself and for a retrial by a new judge.

Prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said Rosmah’s application was made in bad faith to delay her verdict. He said there was nothing wrong if the judge did indeed request the view of the court’s research unit. Such a system of judicial research is accepted and used in many countries and doesn’t discredit the court nor imply any bias, he added.

Malaysia’s top court earlier slammed the action of the website, run by a blogger based in England, as “a deliberate act” to smear the court’s reputation and has complained police. Police have said the leaked document was research work on the ongoing trial and not a judgment.

Last week, the court also filed a police report against the same website for publishing a document it said was the Federal Court’s guilty verdict against Najib, just before the ruling was read out in court. The court has said that leaked document was a working draft of the ruling.

Najib began a 12-year prison term last week after losing his final appeal in one of the five graft cases against him involving the multibillion-dollar pilfering of 1MDB.

If found guilty, Rosmah is expected to remain out on bail for her appeal to higher courts. Each of the charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of five times the amount of the bribe.

The couple have been hit with multiple counts of graft after the shocking ouster of Najib’s United Malays National Organization in May 2018 elections, fueled by public anger over the 1MDB scandal. UMNO has since returned to power after defections caused the collapse of the reformist government that won 2018 polls.

Rosmah’s trial had shed light on her alleged sway in the government since her husband took office in 2009. Prosecutors said Rosmah wielded considerable influence due to her “overbearing nature,” even though she held no official position. Witnesses testified that a special department, called First Lady of Malaysia, was set up to handle Rosmah’s affairs.

Her former aide, who was jointly charged with Rosmah but later testified for the prosecution, told the court that many businessmen lobbied Rosmah for help to secure government projects. The aide testified Rosmah was feared by civil servants and requests from her department were often swiftly carried out.

The court also heard that she spent 100,000 ringgit a month ($22,300) to hire online propagandists to deflect criticism of her lavish lifestyle that led to her being despised by many Malaysians.

After Najib lost power, police raiding family residences seized hundreds of boxes of luxurious Hermes Birkin handbags, 423 watches, 14 tiaras and other jewelries plus cash estimated at more than 1.1 billion ringgit ($246 million).

During her trial, 23 prosecution witnesses testified but only two defense witnesses were called, including Rosmah. She has told the court she was never involved in government affairs and that her former aide was a corrupt liar who had used her name to solicit bribes and pocketed the money himself.

Separately, Rosmah has also been charged with laundering illegal proceeds and tax evasion linked to 1MDB in another trial that hasn’t started.

1MDB was a development fund that Najib set up after taking office. Investigators allege more than $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates through layers of bank accounts in the U.S. and other countries to finance Hollywood films and extravagant purchases that included hotels, a luxury yacht, art works and jewelry.

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