Pressure on Najib mounts as Swiss govt calls for investigation
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s attorney general promised Saturday to cooperate with a Swiss call for help in probing alleged massive corruption that has placed Prime Minister Najib Razak under severe pressure.
Swiss prosecutors on Friday had issued a statement saying they believe around $4 billion was stolen from Malaysian state-owned companies, including a firm with close links to Najib, and called for Malaysian assistance in their investigation.
The appeal came just days after Najib’s attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, sparked outrage and allegations of a cover-up by declaring Najib committed no wrongdoing in accepting a mysterious $681 million payment to his personal bank accounts in 2013.
“My office intends to take all possible steps to follow up and collaborate with our Swiss counterparts,” Apandi said in a statement quoted by Malaysian media.
Malaysia has been rocked for more than a year by allegations that perhaps billions of dollars had gone missing from complex overseas transactions involving the Najib-linked company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The scandal hit another gear last July when the $681 million payment to Najib, now 62, was revealed.
The revelation fueled suspicions that the money came from 1MDB, an investment company that has launched a fire sale of assets to pay off billions of dollars in debt.
Najib and 1MDB have denied wrongdoing, but both face accusations from the opposition and other critics of hiding facts.
Since last year, Najib’s government has responded to the snowballing scandal by detaining whistle-blowers, shutting down media outlets and websites that reported on the affair, and warning that those who expose anything further could face prosecution.
He also purged critics in his top ruling circle and fired his attorney general, who had been investigating the money paid to Najib, replacing him with Apandi.
Apandi said last week the money was a harmless “personal donation” from the Saudi royal family, prompting derision in Malaysia.
In September, Swiss authorities announced they had frozen “tens of millions of dollars” in suspicious assets in Swiss accounts held by current and former officials from Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.
“To date, however, the Malaysian companies concerned have made no comment on the losses they are believed to have incurred,” the prosecutors’ statement said Friday.
The request was made as part of criminal proceedings opened last August against two former 1MDB officials and “persons unknown” suspected of bribing foreign officials, misconduct in a public office, money laundering and criminal mismanagement, the Swiss said.
Opposition Malaysian lawmaker Tony Pua demanded that Apandi fully cooperate with the Swiss to “remove the perception that (he) was biased” toward Najib, and that Malaysian authorities redouble efforts to probe “Malaysia’s biggest scandal in history.”
Critics, however, allege that key institutions like the Malaysian police, anti-corruption agency and judicial organs are susceptible to pressure from the corruption-prone ruling coalition in power since 1957 and now headed by Najib.
Najib’s own brother Nazir Razak, a powerful banker, summed up the national mood Saturday in an Instagram posting comparing the raging scandals to “Game of Thrones,” the television series known for its brutal intrigues.
“So what lies ahead? The parallels with GoT continue,” said Nazir, who has for months captivated Malaysians with cryptic postings appearing to question his elder brother’s ethics.
“The future terrifies me: I just can’t see how our institutions can recover, how our political atmosphere can become less toxic, how our international reputation can be repaired,” he said.
Political analysts say Najib remains secure following his recent government purge and due to the ruling coalition’s grip on institutions.
But the scandals have spooked foreign investors worried about political stability.
Flagging investment has exacerbated concerns over an expected economic downturn, and analysts said a further deterioration in the economy could raise the political pressure on Najib.