Malaysia files charges, issues arrest warrant for British aide to ex-PM Najib

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian authorities have filed money laundering charges against a British national who had worked for ex-prime minister Najib Razak as a media adviser, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Najib was ousted in a general election last year amid widespread public anger over a multibillion-dollar graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Anti-graft investigators issued a notice in November calling for Paul Stadlen to assist in their 1MDB probe. Media reports say he left Malaysia shortly after Najib's shock defeat in the May 9 election and his whereabouts are unknown.

On Wednesday, prosecutors filed two charges of money laundering against Stadlen at a Kuala Lumpur court. Authorities also issued a warrant for his arrest.

"The charges were registered for the purpose of obtaining a warrant of arrest," said prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib, adding that the warrant had been sent to Interpol, the international police body.

According to the charges, Stadlen is alleged to have laundered 14.3 million ringgit ($3.5 million) in proceeds from illegal activities that had been deposited in the client account of a law firm linked to Najib.

Stadlen is accused of ordering the transfer of funds from the account to several companies and individuals between June 2014 and August 2015, according to the charges.

Mishcon de Reya, a London-based law firm representing Stadlen, said in a statement their client denied wrongdoing and described the charges against him as politically-motivated.

"The Malaysian government has a political agenda, and Paul is now caught up in the backlash against former prime minister Najib Razak," said Kevin Gold, Mishcon de Reya's managing partner.

A spokesman for Najib did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mohamad Hafarizam Harun, the head of the Najib-linked law firm, on Thursday pleaded not guilty to two counts of money laundering. He is accused of depositing cheques totaling 15 million ringgit from Najib into a client account at his law firm, state news agency Bernama said.

At least six countries are investigating 1MDB, a state fund founded by Najib in 2009.

Malaysian and U.S. investigators say about $4.5 billion was siphoned from the fund and that about $1 billion made its way into Najib's personal bank accounts.

Since the election, Najib has been hit with 42 criminal charges, most of them linked to 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty.

($1 = 4.0660 ringgit)

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Darren Schuettler)

02/21/2019 3:21

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