A Malaysian court Thursday ordered the wife of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak to enter her defense in a corruption trial linked to a 1.25 billion ringgit ($310 million) solar energy project.
The ruling against Rosmah Mansor was a blow just months after Najib was found guilty in the first of several corruption trials and sentenced to 12 years in jail, pending an appeal.
High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said prosecutors had provided enough evidence to continue the case against Rosmah on three charges of soliciting bribes and receiving $6.5 million ($1.6 million) between 2016 and 2017 to help a company secure a project to provide solar energy panels to schools on Borneo island.
“I find that the prosecution has adduced credible evidence to prove every element of all three charges, and if unrebutted or unexplained, would warrant a conviction,” he said.
Rosmah elected to testify, meaning she can be cross-examined by prosecutors. Najib, who was there to show support, rubbed her shoulders to console his wife after the judgment before leaving for his own graft trial in another courtroom.
After the judge set June 9 for her defense to begin, Rosmah left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Her lawyer Jagjit Singh told reporters she was “emotionally upset and distressed.” He said the defense may call Najib as one of their witnesses.
The couple have been hit with multiple counts of graft after Najib’s shocking ouster in May 2018 elections, which was fueled by public anger over the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
Last July, Najib was found guilty in his first graft trial linked to the 1MDB scandal. Rosmah has also been charged with laundering illegal proceeds and tax evasion linked to 1MDB in another trial that hasn’t started.
The trial had cast a spotlight on Rosmah’s alleged sway in the government since her husband took office in 2009. 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 ($24,700) to hire online propagandists to deflect criticism of her opulent lifestyle — a level of opulence that led to her being despised by many Malaysians.
After Najib lost power, police raiding family residences seized hundreds of boxes of Birkin handbags, 423 watches, 14 tiaras and other jewelries plus cash estimated at more than $267 million.
Defense lawyers argue that Rosmah’s former aide was a corrupt liar who had used her name to solicit bribes, and also pocketed the money himself.
Najib’s Malay party returned to government as the biggest bloc in an alliance that took power in March last year, after the collapse of the reformist government due to political maneuvering.
Reporting by the Associated Press from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.