Dressed in a blue blazer, white shirt and purple tie, the 65-year-old looked relaxed as he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex at about 2pm, stopping to greet a group of his supporters before entering the courthouse with his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.
He is not accompanied by his wife, Rosmah Mansor, who has also been charged with money laundering and tax evasion. His son Norashman Najib had arrived at the courthouse shortly before 2pm.
Najib faces three counts of criminal breach of trust, one charge of abuse of power, and three counts of money laundering involving RM42 million (S$14 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Some 40 reporters and cameramen had begun queuing to get passes to the hearing around noon at the Court Complex, while about a dozen Najib supporters had gathered outside the court building.
Baha Taha, a Najib supporter and chair of Geram secretariat, a coalition of NGOs, said: “Najib is our true leader and the real PM of Malaysia. He developed the country, especially the rural areas. He took care of the people. We would be really upset and frustrated (if he is jailed.) The allegations against him are not true.”
The trial was originally scheduled to begin in February, but appeals filed by his defence team over procedural matters postponed the case for a few times.
Defence lawyer Shafee Abdullah even managed to have the hearing pushed back after he pleaded that his pet dog had injured his arm.
Cynthia Gabriel, head of the non-profit group The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, told AFP that Malaysians had been waiting “too long” for the trial to begin.
“The multiple delays are so obvious and deliberate, it’s a way of pushing the trials further,” she said. “It’s apparent that the former ousted PM, isn’t quite ready to sit in the dock and face trial, be cross-examined, and get embarrassed.”
Fahmi Reza, a graphic artist who was slapped with a jail term and fined for depicting Najib in a caricature as a sinister clown, said it was the ex-premier’s turn to “face justice”.
“Today, it is your turn to be dragged here to face justice for the crime of corruption and abuse of power during your reign,” he said in a tweet.
Najib has also been charged with 25 other counts of money laundering and abuse of power, in connection with RM2.6 billion, believed to be from 1MDB, that went into his personal account.