By Hadi Azmi
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday his government had a near perfect case against predecessor Najib Razak over the alleged theft of state money, while a source told BenarNews that Malaysia’s anti-graft agency had proposed criminal charges against the ex-PM.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) proposed charging Najib under the anti-money laundering act and for misappropriating properties in connection with a financial scandal around the 1MDB state fund, sources close to the case said. The MACC presented an investigation paper to Malaysia’s new attorney general last week.
“The proposal on the charges never changed, it is the same as the one we proposed to then- Attorney General Apandi (Ali),” a source who was not authorized to speak to the media told BenarNews.
The investigation paper sent on June 12 focused on 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10.6 million) that was allegedly transferred from SRC International, a subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Berhad, to Najib’s personal bank account.
Serving as prime minister when the SRC investigation began in 2015, Najib sacked then-Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail who was preparing a case against him. Gani’s replacement, Apandi, subsequently cleared Najib of all wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB and SRC.
A source said MACC was working on two other investigation papers into 2.6 billion ringgit ($650 million) in SRC money that ended up in Najib’s account.
Najib became the focus as Malaysia’s new government pledged to investigate the 1MDB scandal and other major cases involving corruption in its first 100 days after upsetting the former prime minister’s Barisan Nasional coalition in last month’s general election.
Since Mahathir was sworn in as prime minister on May 10, police said they had raided properties linked to Najib and confiscated 114 million ringgit ($28.75 million), along with 284 boxes containing luxury handbags.
U.S. Department of Justice officials have described the 1MDB case as “the worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times,” pointing out that more than $4.5 billion (17.9 billion ringgit) was stolen from the fund since its inception by Najib in 2009 until its advisory board was dissolved in 2016.
“We think that we already have almost a perfect case,” Mahathir told Reuters news service.
Najib played a central role in the scandal, Mahathir said.
“He was totally responsible for 1MDB. Nothing can be done without his signature, and we have his signature on all the deals entered into by 1MDB. Therefore, he is responsible,” Mahathir told the news agency.
In response, Najib denied doing anything wrong and added that even if he had given orders at 1MDB, the management and fund board would not have been bound to act. “As far as I am concerned, I did not do anything that I thought was illegal,” he told Reuters.
The statement was consistent with Najib’s previous denials involving 1MDB.
Mahathir also confirmed that Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, was being investigated.
“Some of the money is believed to have gone to her, lots of money,” Mahathir told Reuters. “We know about this, but finding the paper trail is a bit more difficult in this case because she doesn’t sign any papers. Najib signs a lot of papers.”
Both Najib and Rosmah have been questioned by MACC as part of its investigation into SRC International.
Attorney general’s priority
When he was appointed as Malaysia’s attorney general on June 6, Tommy Thomas declared that 1MDB would be his top priority.
He said his office would need time to review the investigation paper but it appreciated “the urgency and sensitivity of their task.” He said he had appointed two teams to study the paper, one to consider instituting criminal prosecution and another to consider civil proceedings.
“Members of both teams are experienced deputy public prosecutors and senior federal counsels who will report directly to me,” he said.
In related developments, MACC officials earlier this month ordered businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, and SRC director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil to contact them immediately to assist in the 1MDB investigation.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said authorities had sufficient information that Jho Low was among the main suspects behind the 1MDB scandal.
The government also sought Interpol’s assistance in locating the men and issued arrest warrants, according to media reports.
“They are super important to the investigation,” MACC deputy commissioner Azam Baki said at the time.
Jho Low, identified as a close friend of Najib, agreed to assist, his attorney said in a statement in response to the order.
Later, reports surfaced that the fugitive financier sought a deal from the Malaysian government where he would give up his claim to assets valued at more than 4 billion ringgit ($1 billion) in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
In his interview with Reuters, Mahathir said he had turned down Jho Low’s offer and would not consider any similar deal with Najib.