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Those charged in 1MDB case will get a fair trial, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir says

Key Points
  • Former Prime Minister Najib Razak has been charged with money laundering offenses in relation to the disappearance of billions of dollars from from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
  • The former prime minister will get a fair trial, current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told CNBC.
  • Najib previously claimed that the charges brought against him were politically motivated, but Mahathir said the rule of law applies whether or not the former leader is found guilty.
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Former Prime Minister Najib Razak will get a fair trial: Malaysia's Mahathir

Those charged with stealing money from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad will get a fair trial, including former leader Najib Razak, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Monday.

"We believe in the rule of law. Whatever the law says, we accept," Mahathir told CNBC's Sri Jegarajah in response to a question about whether Najib can be guaranteed a fair trial.

"I must admit that, in the previous regime, there is an attempt to fiddle with the judiciary. But we want a free judiciary and we hope that they will not be biased," said the prime minister.

Najib has been charged with money laundering offenses in relation to the disappearance of billions of dollars from 1MDB. The person said to be at the center of the scandal, Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, has not been located.

The scandal involved money being illegally transferred across shell companies and individual bank accounts in many countries. The U.S. Department of Justice previously alleged that Najib received $681 million from proceeds misappropriated from a bond issue arranged by Goldman Sachs in 2013.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
Getty Images

The case has been investigated in at least six jurisdictions. In one of the latest developments, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment a few weeks ago accusing Low and an associate of laundering billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB.

Najib's involvement in the scandal was said to be part of the reason behind Mahathir's return to politics to go against his former party. The 93-year-old leader was Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 to 2003 before returning to power this year in a historic election victory that ended the rule of the Najib-led Barisan Nasional.

Najib said that the 1MDB-related charges brought against him were politically motivated — a claim that Mahathir denied to CNBC.

"If he has to be trialed, he should be trialed. If he's charged and he's found guilty, then the rule of law will apply. If he's found innocent, then the rule of law will also apply," Mahathir said.

WATCH: What happened to 1MDB's money?
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What happened to Malaysia's 1MDB money?