February 5, 2020 / 11:53 AM / in 17 days

Trial of former Malaysian PM's wife begins, court told she influenced government decisions

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The corruption trial of Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak, began on Wednesday, with a prosecutor describing how she exerted “considerable influence” over government decisions.

Rosmah Mansor, wife of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak, leaves Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Accusations of graft on a massive scale, were leveled against the couple after Najib lost a general election in 2018. They have both denied all charges, labeling them politically motivated.

Najib now faces dozens of graft and money laundering charges linked to the plunder of funds from sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. During a break from one of his own ongoing trials, Najib came to see Rosmah, 67, on her first day in the dock.

During that brief visit Najib spoke to his wife and her lawyers, giving her a little hug before leaving the court.

Rosmah faces three charges of soliciting and receiving bribes involving a sum of 194 million ringgit ($45.93 million) to help a company, Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd, secure a solar power project.

Of that total, prosecutors accuse Rosmah of arranging for 187 million ringgit to be paid as a political donation to Najib, while also receiving two bribes of 6.5 million ringgit.

The trial had been due to start on Monday, but was delayed as the defence said Rosmah was too ill to attend.

Sitting in the dock behind her legal team, dressed in a green floral baju kurung, a traditional Malay long smock and dress, and wearing a headscarf, Rosmah appeared calm throughout the first day’s proceedings.

Prosecutors argued that Rosmah had put herself in a position where she was able to influence decisions by the government, particularly the award of the a 1.25 billion ringgit solar power project for rural schools in the eastern state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.

“By herself, she occupied no official position. However, she wielded considerable influence by reason of her overbearing nature,” Gopal Sri Ram, who leads the prosecution, said in his opening statement.

High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan dismissed the objection from defence counsel Jagjit Singh that the prosecution’s characterisation of Rosmah as “overbearing” amounted to character assassination.

($1 = 4.1150 ringgit)

Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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