Malaysia Political Spat Escalates as Former Premier Sues Najib

  • Mahathir waging campaign to oust Prime Minister Najib
  • Najib facing biggest crisis since coming to power in 2009

Mahathir Mohamad.

Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad escalated his feud with Prime Minister Najib Razak, filing a lawsuit alleging misuse of power.

Najib "actively and deliberately" sought to derail investigations by local agencies into troubled state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd., plus hundreds of millions of dollars that ended up in his private accounts in 2013, according to a statement by Mahathir’s lawyers.

Mahathir and two former officials of the ruling United Malays National Organisation are suing Najib in the Kuala Lumpur High Court. They are seeking damages of at least 2.6 billion ringgit ($651 million) plus interest to be paid to the government.

The plaintiffs are seeking to “reverse the destruction of the rule of law and the sanctity of the provision of our Federal Constitution, which Najib Razak has completely destroyed to almost beyond repair," according to law firm Haniff Khatri, which is representing the trio.

Mahathir, who was Malaysia’s longest serving leader when he stepped down in 2003, has waged a public campaign to get Najib out of office, warning the coalition led by the premier’s party risks being voted out at the next election which must be held by 2018. He led opposition and civil society groups this month in calling for the removal of Najib through non-violent means, a move the government said showed the depth of "political opportunism and desperation."

"Mahathir has run out of options" after failing to oust the prime minister through UMNO and parliament, Minister of Communications and Multimedia Salleh Said Keruak said in a statement. "He is clutching at straws."‎

"His accusations are false, so he will fail yet again," Keruak said.

Najib is facing his biggest political crisis since coming to power seven years ago as questions linger over $681 million which appeared in his accounts before the last election in 2013, funds the attorney-general said were a donation from the Saudi royal family. The premier said this month his government has a mandate and the majority to rule, brushing aside efforts by his critics to remove him.

Najib has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the funding scandals, saying last year he and Mahathir disagreed over economic policies and that no “individual, however eminent” should try to interfere with his leadership. He retains the backing of the bulk of powerful divisional chiefs in the UMNO party.

One of Mahathir’s fellow plaintiffs, Khairuddin Abu Hassan, was accused by the government of economic sabotage last year after he lodged reports overseas seeking investigations into 1MDB. That case has not yet been heard in court and he disputes the allegations.

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