Overseas graft probes pose new challenge for Najib

Mounting investigations by US and other foreign authorities are undermining Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s attempts to quash corruption allegations, and analysts said they could further hasten his descent into an international pariah, even if criminal charges are dodged.

The prime minister has used the blunt force of his government, in power for 58 years, to stymie Malaysian probes into billions of ringgit in mysterious overseas fund movements.

But the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have separately reported that the FBI and the US Justice Department were now scrutinising the flows, adding to investigations by Swiss, British, Singaporean and Hong Kong authorities.

“These investigations are now happening in places where some of this money was parked. If Najib hasn’t started losing sleep yet, he should,” said Cynthia Gabriel, head of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism.

Malaysians have become inured to ruling-party corruption, but the scale of the latest scandal has provoked disbelief.

It began last year with allegations that perhaps more than a billion dollars went missing from overseas transactions by a Najib-linked state company, and was capped in July by the startling revelation that RM2.6 billion was transferred into the prime minister’s own bank accounts.

The New York Times yesterday said the Justice Department was also investigating multi-million-dollar US property purchases by companies linked to Najib’s stepson and by a close family friend, citing people with knowledge of the probe.

The prospect of foreign charges against Najib remains remote for now – that would require unlikely cooperation from Malaysia’s government in the highly complex investigations, experts said.

But the scrutiny further tars the image of Najib, an Anglophile who has curried Western favour by portraying himself as a moderate Muslim.

“He has been welcomed overseas with open arms. Now he is going to be shunned. That’ll be hard to swallow,” said John Malott, a former US ambassador to Malaysia.

Najib and the government-owned company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board he chairs, deny that the firm’s funds were diverted to his accounts.

He alleges a conspiracy to unseat him, increasingly blaming Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s no-nonsense leader from 1981-2003 who has bitterly split with Najib over recent ruling-party election setbacks.

The government calls deposits to Najib’s accounts “political donations” from unspecified Middle Eastern sources. Mahathir has called that “absurd”.

Overseas graft probes pose new challenge for Najib
22 September 2015 – TMI


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