‘I Am Not a Thief,’ Najib Says as Money Trail Probed

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Najib Razak
Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak. Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg

A Malaysian task force is investigating a money trail that allegedly showed funds ending up in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank accounts, a claim he says is political sabotage as some cabinet members voiced support.

The Attorney-General said Saturday the task force obtained documents related to the apparent transfer of funds in its probe of a state investment company and during raids on three companies. Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said attempts to undermine the government could be a threat to national security while Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said it’s reckless to criticize Najib as the truth has not been determined.

“I am not a thief,” Najib told reporters Sunday. “I am not a traitor and will not betray Malaysians and Malaysia” by misappropriating funds, he said.

About $700 million may have moved through government agencies, banks and companies linked to state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd. before apparently appearing in Najib’s accounts, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing documents from a government probe. The Prime Minister’s Office said Friday the claims were part of a “political sabotage” campaign by some individuals seeking to remove Najib from office.

The scandal surrounding the alleged funds is the biggest crisis so far to engulf Najib, 61, since he came to power in 2009. It may threaten his ability to implement more economic reforms such as a new consumption tax and fuel subsidy cuts that Fitch Ratings cited when it affirmed Malaysia’s sovereign rating on June 30 and upgraded its outlook to stable.

Legal Action

Najib said Sunday that the allegations against him are wild and malicious, and he is seeking legal advice on action to be taken against the Wall Street Journal.

The Sarawak Report, a news website set up by British investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle-Brown in 2010, reported Thursday on a similar money trail involving the companies raided by the task force as well as Malaysian lender AMMB Holdings Bhd., where there were allegedly accounts bearing Najib’s name.

An AMMB spokesman said Friday it’s unable to comment as the lender is guided by the Financial Services Act which governs client confidentiality.

“Allegations and insinuations are being made against a serving Malaysian prime minister,” Home Minister Ahmad Zahid said in a statement Sunday. “The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Royal Malaysian Police will not hesitate to use the full force of the law against those who attempt to harm Malaysia’s economy and our democratic process.”

Deputy Premier

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called on authorities Saturday to investigate the allegations against Najib. Members of the special task force, which comprises of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the central bank and police, conducted raids Friday on the premises of three companies linked to the funds, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail said.

“Following a review and analysis made on documents obtained as a result of the raids, I have given guidance to the Special Task Force to follow up,” Abdul Gani said without providing details. “The investigation will focus on every aspect raised.”

Hishammuddin said the task force should be given space to perform the investigations, which he believed will be done “promptly, fairly and impartially.”

1MDB on Friday denied it had funneled funds to Najib, rejecting reports saying investigators believed they had found such a money trail. The prime minister said late Friday he had never taken funds for personal gain and documents on which the Wall Street Journal report is based were doctored.

‘Very Concerned’

“I am very concerned with the recent expose by the Wall Street Journal,” Muhyiddin said in a Facebook posting. “This accusation is very serious because it can undermine the credibility and integrity of Najib as prime minister and head of government.”

Najib should give a convincing explanation or denial, Muhyiddin said, adding he welcomed the fact that Najib had refuted the allegations.

Investor confidence in Malaysia has been dented by growing scrutiny over Najib’s management of debt-ridden 1MDB, whose advisory board he chairs. In a period of less than five years since it was set up, the company accumulated debt of 41.9 billion ringgit ($11.1 billion).

Approval Rating

Najib has resisted calls from former premier Mahathir Mohamad to step down as the country’s leader over the matter. He said he has a mandate to govern and will remain leader as long as he has the support of his United Malays National Organisation party and citizens.

Najib’s approval rating fell to 44 percent in January from 48 percent in October, according to a survey conducted by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research that month. Rising living costs and concern ahead of the introduction of a new consumption tax in April contributed to the decline.

Mahathir has said that Najib has lost the trust of Malaysians, and their party UMNO would lose the next general election if he stays as leader. His predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down in 2009 after Mahathir led calls for his resignation.

Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost the popular vote in the 2013 general elections even as it kept a parliamentary majority. The next elections must be held by 2018.

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