MALAYSIAN PM NAJIB KEY FIGURE IN 1MDB CORRUPTION SCANDAL, ALLEGES CABINET MINISTER
A Malaysian cabinet minister has said Prime Minister Najib Razak was the mysterious unnamed official who the US Justice Department said took part in rampant looting of state funds.
The comment follows widespread suspicions that Najib was “Malaysian Official 1” mentioned in a Justice Department lawsuit filed in July.
The lawsuit – part of US moves to seize more than $1bn in allegedly ill-gotten assets – repeatedly alleged the official was someone conspiring to divert vast sums from state investment fund 1MDB.
Najib, who launched a crackdown last year to contain the spiralling scandal, has so far not commented on the identity of the unnamed official.
But in an interview with the BBC that aired late on Thursday, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the minister of urban wellbeing, housing and local government, said it was Najib.
“It’s obvious that the so-called ‘Malaysian Official 1’ referred to by the US Justice Department is our prime minister,” he said in a subsequent clarifying statement.
Rahman Dahlan, who also is communications director for Najib’s ruling coalition, did not address whether Najib committed wrongdoing. But he insisted Najib was not a target of the US lawsuit.
His comments, however, will add fuel to persistent calls for Najib to step down.
Tens of thousands of people paralysed the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in August 2015 with two days of protest over the scandal.
Last weekend, several hundred protesters demonstrated, demanding “Malaysian Official 1” be identified and arrested.
Najib, however, has shut down Malaysian investigations, clamped down on media reporting of the affair, and purged critics from his ruling party.
1MDB, or 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was launched by Najib in 2009 and closely overseen by him.
Allegations of a vast international scheme of embezzlement and money-laundering involving billions of dollars of 1MDB money began to emerge two years ago.
In its scathing lawsuit, the US Justice Department detailed how “Malaysian Official 1”, family members, and close associates diverted billions from the now-stricken fund.
Najib and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.
The Justice Department has moved to seize assets including real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, artworks by Monet and Van Gogh, and a Bombardier jet that it alleges were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB.
The reason behind the remarks of Rahman Dahlan, a staunch defender of Najib, was not immediately clear.
But the news dominated headlines in Malaysia, and was a top-trending Twitter topic in the country on Friday.
Senior opposition figure Lim Kit Siang said Najib must immediately submit to justice to avoid further harming Malaysia’s image.
“The prime minister …. [must] purge and cleanse Malaysia’s reputation as a global kleptocracy,” he said in a statement.
Analysts warned the scandal could harm foreign investment in Malaysia.
Political experts see no sign yet that Najib will be ousted before the next elections, due by mid-2018, due to his long-ruling coalition’s firm control.