Najib gears up for graft trial with charm offensive

07 Feb 2019 / 19:57 H.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been out in recent weeks campaigning as if for an election, trying to shed the image of a wealthy, elite politician and elicit public sympathy before his corruption trial begins on Tuesday.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering, in what is set to be the first of many trials over suspected multibillion-ringgit fraud at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The trial starts nine months after Najib was voted out of office in a general election dominated by public disgust over allegations some US$4.5 billion (about RM18.3 billion) was stolen from 1MDB, and about a quarter of it went into his personal bank accounts.

Police found nearly US$300 million worth of goods and cash at properties linked to Najib soon after the May 2018 election.

But as the trial date nears, Najib - who has maintained his innocence - has sought a radical change of image, painting himself as a victim of a vindictive government led by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The 65-year-old Najib is also trying to build an image as a folksy voice of working people, especially members of the Malay majority.

Najib, in a viral video last month, crooned a Malay-language version of the 1970s hit ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye’, surrounded by a chorus of sombre young singers, criticising Mahathir’s coalition for failing to live up to election promises.

“On May 9, 2018, I was ousted. All this time, I have been fighting with my life for the people I love. But what can I do?” an earnest Najib says of his “saddest day” in the introduction to the song.

Najib has also been hitting out online. His jibes against ruling party politicians on Facebook and Twitter have some social media users referring to him as “King of Trolls”.

A relaxed, casually dressed Najib also paid a visit this month to Langkawi, where he pottered around town, visiting markets, eating at hawker stalls and rubbing elbows and posing for selfies with passers-by.

Mahathir was not impressed. He told a news conference last week Najib seemed to be getting popular on social media because “he provides a lot of stories”.

Harvinderjit Singh, one of Najib’s lawyers, declined to comment on the former premier’s public appearances but said the 1MDB trials were unlikely to be affected by the hoopla.

“The case is going to be determined by what happens in court, not out of it,“ he said. — Reuters

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