WAtoday 5 July 2015

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia’s prime minister is facing the risk of a criminal charge over allegations that millions of dollars were funnelled from an indebted state fund to his personal bank accounts.

The attorney general confirmed late on Saturday that he had received documents from an official investigation that made the link between Prime Minister Najib Razak and the investment fund 1MDB.

Mr Razak has slammed the report that says investigations into troubled state fund 1MDB have traced nearly $US700 million ($930 million) of deposits into accounts that allegedly belonged to him, claiming it was a “continuation of political sabotage”.

The Wall Street Journal report, if true, would be the first time the beleaguered prime minister has been directly linked to accusations of corruption surrounding the fund.

The documents sent to the attorney general pave the way for possible criminal charges.

This is the first time a Malaysian leader faces criminal allegations.

“There have been concerted efforts by certain individuals to undermine confidence in our economy, tarnish the government, and remove a democratically elected prime minister,” Mr Najib’s office said in a statement on his Facebook page.

“These latest claims, attributed to unnamed investigators as a basis to attack the prime minister, are a continuation of this political sabotage,” it said.

The statement said documents cited in the report should not be accepted as genuine unless verified by appropriate authorities. It pointed to reports about criminal leaking of documents, doctoring and extortion related to 1MDB that has been recently published in the media.

Early reactions from within Mr Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), showed support for the 61-year-old leader.

“If they were dead serious about the authenticity, the reports should have named the sources,” said Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the minister for Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government, in a tweet.

Two opposition parties called on Mr Najib to take a leave of absence while the allegations are investigated, and another said he must declare his assets publicly in a sworn statement.

Mr Najib, the son of a former primer minister, has been weakened by attacks from the opposition and from within his own party by charges of graft and mismanagement. However, he retains support within the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who was once Mr Najib’s patron and remains highly influential, has previously called for the prime minister to step down over the 1MDB furore.

Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, Mr Mahathir withdrew his support for Mr Najib after the BN coalition fell short of a popular majority in 2013 elections but retained power.

In a blog, Mr Mahathir made no mention of the report and instead made allegations about people in power dodging taxes.

1MDB has faced a storm of criticism over its debt of nearly $US11.6 billion and financial mismanagement. Mr Najib chairs the fund’s advisory board.

Five deposits into Mr Najib’s account have been questioned. The two largest transactions, worth $US620 million and $US61 million, through a chain of companies linked to 1MDB were done in March 2013 during the election campaign, it said.

The fund is currently facing separate investigations by the country’s central bank, auditor-general, police and the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

1MDB described the allegations as “unsubstantiated” and said it had never provided any funds to the prime minister. “To suggest otherwise, as some media outlets have done, is highly irresponsible and a deliberate attempt to undermine the company,” the fund said in a statement.

Two opposition groups, the Democratic Action Party and the People’s Justice Party (PKR), called on Mr Najib to take leave immediately to allow an unfettered probe into the allegations.

“In order to protect whistleblowers and allow a free and independent investigation, he cannot hold the post of prime minister,” PKR MP Tian Chua said.

“He must set himself aside; it would show that he is confident of his innocence. If he refuses, there will be suspicion that someone is trying to cook the books.”

Reuters, AP

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