Timeline: How Malaysia’s 1MDB financial scandal unfolded

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak goes on trial on Wednesday in the first of a series of cases linked to the scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund that was supposed to drive new development in the country.

The fund’s business is under investigation in at least six countries over allegations that billions of dollars were used to purchase luxury apartments, designer jewellery and art, and to fund the Hollywood movie Wolf of Wall Street.

Najib, the son of the country’s second prime minister, is the first Malaysian leader ever to go on trial for corruption in the country.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Jho Low, the elusive Malaysian financier at the centre of the 1MDB allegations, as well as for others believed to have been involved.

Here is a timeline of the scandal in the leadup to the trial.

July 2009

Then prime minister and finance minister Najib launches 1MDB, a “strategic development company driving new ideas and new sources of growth”. The fund is wholly owned by the government of Malaysia and Najib is chairman of its board of advisers.

September 2009

1MDB signs a deal with PetroSaudi International to set up a joint venture company and invests $1bn cash for a 40 percent stake. PetroSaudi, backed by oil and gas assets said to be worth $1.5bn, takes 60 percent in the business.

Xavier Justo, PetroSaudi International’s director-turned-whistleblower, gave evidence to Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission last May. [Lai Seng Sin/Reuters]

March 2012

Najib launches the Tun Razak Exchange, built by 1MDB as a new financial district for Kuala Lumpur. Najib tells invited guests the first phase of the development will bring in RM3.5b ($856.8m) in direct foreign investments.

May and October 2012

US investment bank Goldman Sachs helps 1MDB sell bonds worth $3.5bn to raise money to buy power assets.

March 2013

Goldman Sachs helps 1MDB raise a further $3bn in an additional bond sale, this time to cover “new strategic economic initiatives” between Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.

December 2013

The “Wolf of Wall Street”, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, is released in the United States. The $100m film was produced by Red Granite Pictures, a newcomer co-founded by Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz. The end credits included a thank you to Jho Low, a young Malaysian financier.  

Riza Aziz (L), Najib’s stepson and a co-producer of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ on the red carpet in London with the film’s leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. [Paul Hackett/Reuters]

January 2015

1MDB misses a loan payment of about $550m.

March 2015

Under pressure, Malaysia’s government sets up a ‘special taskforce’ to investigate 1MDB.

July 2015

The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report say nearly $700m suspected to have originated with 1MDB was deposited into Najib’s personal bank account.

Najib sacks the attorney general who was leading the Malaysian investigation and reshuffles his cabinet, removing key critics, including deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The ruling party politician leading the parliamentary inquiry into 1MDB is made a deputy minister.

The changes effectively shut down the domestic investigation.

January 2016

The new attorney general clears Najib of any wrongdoing, saying the $681m was a donation from a prince in Saudi Arabia and $620m was returned.

Malaysians took to the streets in November 2016 protesting against 1MDB and calling for Najib’s resignation. [Edgar Su/Reuters]

July 2016

The United States Department of Justice files a civil suit to seize assets it alleges were bought with funds stolen from 1MDB. The suit says $681m found its way into the personal account of ‘Malaysian Official 1’, later identified as Najib by both the US and a Malaysian minister.

June 2017

The justice department announces it believes more than $4.5bn was siphoned from 1MDB by senior officials and their associates.

August 2017

The justice department says a criminal investigation into the fund is underway. The attorney general later describes the scandal as “kleptocracy at its worst”.

May 2018

Najib is defeated in Malaysia’s general election amid deepening anger over 1MDB and the rising cost of living. Two days later, Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, are barred from leaving the country.

US officials reveal the US was seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than $1bn in assets misappropriated from 1MDB in Washington in July 2016. [James Lawler Duggan/Reuters]

June 2018

Malaysian police raid Kuala Lumpur properties connected to Najib, seizing jewellery, designer handbags, luxury watches and cash valued at around $275m.

July 2018

The first charges are laid against Najib in relation to 1MDB.

October 2018

Rosmah also finds herself in court where she is charged with money laundering and tax evasion.

December 2018

Malaysia files criminal charges against Goldman Sachs in relation to the 1MDB bond sale.

April 3 2019

Najib to appear in the Kuala Lumpur High Court in the first of what will be a series of trials relating to 1MDB.

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