KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 — Detractors of Datuk Seri Najib Razak are gunning to sink his political career by leveraging on the latest claims directly linking the prime minister to allegedly missing money in the debt-riddled 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Singapore paper reported today.
Citing Malaysian political observers, the Straits Times reported the 61-year-old’s reputation has been sullied by a yet-to-be proven allegation of US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) transferred from 1MDB directly into his personal account two months before Election 2013.
According to Ibrahim Suffian who heads the independent pollster Merdeka Centre, the seriousness of the accusations means that Najib’s “opponents are not taking half measures and are going for the kill”.
In his Facebook post late last night, the second-term prime minister has denied the link published by US-based Wall Street Journal (WSJ) yesterday, and blamed his former mentor-turned critic Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the mastermind of the attack.
Retired prime minister Dr Mahathir has been on a campaign against Najib, using allegations against 1MDB — the prime minister’s brainchild — as the cornerstone of his bid to remove the latter from power.
However, Najib’s delay in both clarifying the allegation and initiating legal action against the WSJ and his critics have fuelled widespread speculation on the internet.
“PMO insists WSJ’s report is a political sabotage. If so, where is the statement that legal action will be commenced soon?” lawyer and popular social commentator Azhar Harun was reported saying in a Twitter post yesterday.
The prime minister has not shied away from initiating defamation lawsuits against his detractors in the past, with cases against opposition lawmakers Tony Pua, Rafizi Ramli and Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as well as against PAS-owned daily Harakah among several pending in court.
But in the newest development, Malay daily Sinar Harian reported today the prime minister’s political secretary saying Najib will be taking legal action against WSJ over its controversial report.
According to the Straits Times’ analysis, the latest embezzlement allegation unravels any positive news under Najib’s leadership in the past two weeks, including the economic outlook upgrade by Fitch Ratings this year and the arrest of former PetroSaudi director Xavier Justo in Thailand to quell rumours surrounding claims of tampered documents in 1MDB.
“The timing is disastrous. All the good news around Fitch is now not going to mean much,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the chief executive of think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, was quoted saying.
The Singapore daily noted that while Najib appears to have shored up his position in Umno ahead of the next party and the country’s next elections, allies in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have started asking questions.
MCA Youth chief, Senator Chong Sin Woon said both Najib and 1MDB yesterday need do more to convince the public about the damaging allegations in the WSJ report instead of just issuing “simple one-off” denials, which he said does not allay suspicions against the state investment firm.
“Providing detailed information and clarification will do more damage control and clearing the air whilst alleviating public rumblings, rather than denials which appear standard and do not fully help in assuaging public suspicion,” Chong said in a media statement yesterday.
Citing documents from Malaysian investigators currently scrutinising the troubled 1MDB’s accounts, WSJ claimed in its report yesterday that the money trail shows that some US$700 million were moved between government agencies, banks and companies before it ended up in Najib’s accounts.
1MDB is currently under investigation by at least four federal agencies.
These documents, the international business paper claimed, include bank transfer forms and flowcharts put together by investigators to shed light on 1MDB’s cash flow.
The paper said this is the first time a direct connection to Najib has been established in the probe on 1MDB.
Following the purported expose, Dr Mahathir asked the Inland Revenue Board yesterday evening to state the amount of taxes that 1MBD executives as well as personalities linked to the firm have paid and to examine what he categorised as their lavish lifestyles.