efe-epaNoel Caballero Bangkok

Malaysia's former prime minister, who is set to go on trial on Tuesday, faces years in prison if he is convicted on charges relating to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund scandal.

Najib Razak is charged with 42 counts of corruption, with he and his associates accused of diverting $4.5 billion from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.

The scandal was a major factor that contributed to Najib's historic defeat in the May 2018 elections, when his party, the powerful United Malays National Organization, suffered its first loss since the country's independence from Britain.

The 65-year-old, who served as prime minister from 2009 to 2018, is accused of diverting 2.6 billion ringgit ($681 million at the time) to private accounts, an undercover investigation by the Wall Street Journal and the Sarawak Report found in 2015.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) formally charged Najib with criminal breach of trust and abuse of power last summer, shortly after the polls.

He denies the allegations, claiming the embezzled funds were a donation from a Saudi prince, an explanation that was initially accepted by 1MDB, the MACC and the then-attorney general, who initially exonerated him. The case was reopened following his defeat in the election.

The trial is due to begin on Tuesday and is expected to last until the end of March, is the first in a series of legal proceedings against the former prime minister.

If found guilty, Najib could be sentenced to between 15 and 20 years in prison.

In the weeks leading up to the trial, Najib has been in combative mood, publicly campaigning against his mentor Mahathir Mohamad's government, claiming he is a victim of political persecution.

Investigators reopened the case began after Najib lost the elections in May, with Mohamad banning his predecessor and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, from leaving the country.

Najib has also published posts that highlight the plight of the poor and show him dressed modestly in jeans and sweatshirts, in sharp contrast to the expensive tailored suits he wore previously.

More than 12,000 pieces of jewelry, including 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras, as well as cash in 26 currencies worth around 116 million ringgit ($28.5 million), were found at their home during the investigation.

The alleged embezzlement and laundering of funds diverted from 1MDB are being investigated in half a dozen countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore The United States Department of Justice estimates that about $4.5 billion was diverted from the 1MDB, $1 billion of which may have been laundered in the country with the purchase of real estate, yachts, jewelry, and works of art among other goods.

Malaysia's former prime minister set up 1MDB in 2009 as a state investment fund to attract investment projects and other developments to the southeast Asian country. The fund ended up accumulating losses of 42 billion ringgit.