September 13, 2018 / 4:29 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Lawyer of former Malaysian PM Najib charged with money laundering

(Adds charges against lawyer, details and comments from finance minister in Hong Kong)

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 (Reuters) - The lawyer of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was charged with money laundering on Thursday by anti graft agents looking into how billions of dollars went missing from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Muhammad Shafee is leading a defence team for Najib who faces charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power at SRC International, a former 1MDB unit. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.

In charges read out at a court in Kuala Lumpur, Shafee was accused of money laundering for allegedly receiving proceeds totaling 9.5 million ringgit ($2.29 million) from illegal activities through cheques issued by Najib.

The charges were brought by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) which is investigating alleged fraud and misappropriation at 1MDB, a fund founded by Najib.

1MDB is at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. A total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Malaysia reopened the probe into 1MDB after Najib, who chaired the fund's advisory board, was defeated by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in a stunning election win in May.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to abuse of power and other charges arising the 1MDB investigation.

Mahathir has vowed to punish people responsible for the 1MDB scandal and also to get back all the misappropriated funds.

Singapore returned 1MDB funds worth $11.1 million to Malaysia last week, Malaysia also got back a $250 million superyacht.

Malaysia's Finance Minister said on Thursday that recovery of the 1MDB assets was going much slower than expected.

Malaysia "we will be lucky if we get 30 percent back" from the 1MDB funds, Lim Guan Eng told a group of reporters at the CLSA Investors' Forum in Hong Kong. ($1 = 4.1410 ringgit) (Reporting by Joseph Sipalan in KUALA LUMPUR and Julia Fioretti in HONG KONG; writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

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