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Malaysia charges ex-1MDB chief and Najib for audit tampering

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Ex-1MDB president Arul Kanda and Malaysia's former leader Najib Razak were charged for their alleged roles in tampering with a state audit report into the troubled fund.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Ex-1MDB president Arul Kanda and Malaysia's former leader Najib Razak were charged for their alleged roles in tampering with a state audit report into the troubled fund.

Najib is accused of altering the report on a government audit into 1MDB to protect himself from criminal, civil or regulatory action, while Arul is accused of abetting him, according to the charge sheets. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The indictment is the first for Arul, the highest-ranking 1MDB officer to be charged in Malaysia's revived investigation into the fund. Najib has pleaded not guilty to dozens of earlier money laundering and corruption charges linked to 1MDB, which is at the center of a global scandal that allegedly saw US$4.5 billion misappropriated.

If found guilty of the charges in the audit case, they would each face up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine. They were released on a RM500,000 (S$164,000) bail each. Najib has paid a total of RM5.5 million bail on previous court appearances.

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The state audit case was opened after Auditor General Madinah Mohamad said that a government report was changed in 2016 to remove Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho's attendance at a 1MDB board meeting, among other alterations. The rationale was that mentioning Low would be sensitive, and omitting the information would prevent the opposition from using it against the government, Madinah said.

Low, better known as Jho Low, has been painted by US prosecutors as a central figure in the 1MDB scandal. Last week, Malaysian prosecutors charged him with receiving more than US$1 billion from the state fund in 2009 and 2011, adding to the eight counts of money laundering charges he was slapped with in August. Low has maintained his innocence.

Other former employees at 1MDB have been indicted, namely former executive director of finance Terence Geh Choh Heng, former business development director Casey Tang and ex-general counsel Jasmine Loo. They were charged in absentia, along with Low, as their whereabouts aren't known.

The investigation into the state audit report remains ongoing. A Malaysian parliamentary committee is looking into the matter and expects to table its findings by March, while the anti-graft agency and the police said in November that they were probing the case.

BLOOMBERG