KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Prosecutors filed more than two dozen new charges against former Prime Minister Najib Razak, including money laundering and abuse of power, involving hundreds of millions of dollars in one of the world’s most expansive financial scandals.
Mr. Najib pleaded not guilty and claimed his right to a trial during a court appearance Thursday. His alleged connection to the scandal surrounding state development fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. contributed heavily to his surprise electoral defeat in May.
Clad in a dark suit, Mr. Najib appeared calm in the courtroom following an overnight stay in the custody of antigraft authorities.
In the packed courtroom, Judge Azura Alwi rejected the prosecution’s request to revoke Mr. Najib’s bail but raised it to nearly $850,000 from $250,000. Prosecutors are seeking to put a gag order on Mr. Najib, saying he has the ability to interfere with the case by issuing 1MDB-related statements. Defense lawyers argued he should remain free.
Mr. Najib, 65, has recently taken to
to deny wrongdoing in the 1MDB affair. He has also used the platform to attack his mentor-turned-foe, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who left Malaysia’s long-ruling party to lead an opposition coalition that threw Mr. Najib out of power.
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The charges brought against Mr. Najib on Thursday go to the heart of the 1MDB scandal, centering on 2.6 billion ringgit ($681 million when first reported by The Wall Street Journal three years ago; $627 million now) that allegedly entered his personal bank accounts ahead of a 2013 election campaign.
“It now shows that there is sufficient evidence to charge,” said N. Sivananthan, one of Malaysia’s top criminal lawyers. “The public have been waiting for quite some time since the last election. This 2.6 billion ringgit is the starting point of the 1MDB crisis years ago and played a big part during the last election.”
Mr. Najib has said the money didn’t come from 1MDB or any other public entity and was stockpiled as a “contingency fund” to fight the 2013 election.
Antigraft officials brought four new counts of abuse of power against Mr. Najib, while the separate police investigation resulted in 21 counts of money laundering. If convicted, the abuse of power counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the maximum penalty for money laundering is 15 years. Heavy fines can also be levied. Legal experts said that sentences, if any are imposed, would likely be served concurrently.
The government of Mr. Mahathir, 93, is seeking to recover billions of dollars that are believed to have been siphoned from the fund. Investigations into the missing money were sidelined while Mr. Najib was in power. The scandal outraged Malaysians and led to the ouster of the coalition that ruled the nation since independence from Britain in 1957.
Mr. Najib has been free on bail since two rounds of initial charges were filed in July and August, stemming from prosecutors’ allegations that he received more than $10 million from a former 1MDB unit.
In June, police said they seized up to 1.1 billion ringgit worth of handbags, luxury watches and jewelry from residences linked to Mr. Najib as part of their investigations. In a recent Facebook post, Mr. Najib asked that millions of dollars in seized cash be returned to him.
The haul included 12,000 pieces of jewelry with a total value of $109 million, 567 handbags, including brands such as Hermès, Prada and Chanel, 423 watches, mostly made by Rolex, and 234 brand-name pairs of sunglasses, police said.
The government has issued an arrest warrant for the alleged mastermind of the 1MDB scandal, financier Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low, who is believed to be in China. Beijing hasn’t confirmed his presence but says it will cooperate with international legal proceedings.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges that Mr. Low, who held lavish parties and befriended Hollywood stars and the superrich helped siphon off at least $4.5 billion from 1MDB between 2009 and 2015.
Since mid-2016, the U.S. has sought, via civil lawsuits in California, to seize nearly $2 billion in assets allegedly bought with the money, including a luxury yacht, a Bombardier jet, mansions and royalties from the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Mr. Low, 36, has denied wrongdoing and says Malaysia’s case against him is politically motivated.
Write to Yantoultra Ngui at firstname.lastname@example.org