Alleged Mastermind in Malaysian Banker’s Murder Arrested then Freed

Kuala Lumpur police arrested Lim Yuen Soo, the alleged mastermind behind the 2013 assassination of Malaysia’s AmBank founder Hussain Najadi, but turned him loose eight days later for lack of evidence. The arrest and release were confirmed by Kuala Lumpur Criminal Investigation Chief Zainuddin Ahmad to local media.

That has raised questions whether Lim has friends in Malaysia’s high political circles. Despite his status –until recently – as a fugitive, Lim is the registered part owner of the Active Force Security Services Sdn Bhd. with the former Malacca Police Chief Mohd Khasni Mohd Nor.

Hussain’s son Pascal Najadi has charged that his father was assassinated in 2013 because he said he wouldn’t play along with financial irregularities involving the United Malays National Organization prior to his death, refusing to orchestrate a multi-billion ringgit property deal connected to the Kuala Lumpur City Center. On one occasion, he told his son that Prime Minister Najib Razak was “lining his pockets with billions of ringgit with no consideration for the future of the country.”

Authorities, however, have said the assassination was over a property deal in which Hussain had been trying to prevent the acquisition of Chinese temple land for development and that it had nothing to do with politics.

According to Zainuddin, speaking to the website Malaysiakini: “There was insufficient evidence to charge [Lim], so we released him.” He told the website that Lim was released after a thorough investigation and after referring the case to the office of Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali, who replaced Abdul Gani Patail in July after Patail was fired by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The decision to free Lim clashed with earlier assertions by police that he was behind the killing. The gunman, Koong Swee Kwan, who was sentenced to death after being paid RM20,000 for the shooting of Hussain Najadi and his 49-year-old Malaysian wife, Cheong Mei Kuen, was said to have told police Lim was behind the shooting. In 2013, following the shooting, the police chief, Mohamad Salleh, said Lim had been given a week to surrender, but failed to do so.

Despite an Interpol red notice calling for his arrest, Lim apparently has been able to travel freely, going into hiding in Australia after the shooting. He reportedly was flying back to Kuala Lumpur from China when airport authorities arrested him.

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Hussain Najadi, an Iranian citizen with permanent Malaysian residency, founded the Arab Malaysian Banking Group in 1975. He had left the bank to found another company when he was killed but he still maintained ties to it. The bank eventually grew into a US$16 billion operation. It later changed its name to AmBank and was the personal bank for Prime Minister Najib, who mysteriously had US$681 million deposited in his personal account by unknown sources in 2013. The money has become a huge political controversy, with opposition leaders and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad calling for Najib’s ouster. He has buckled down and refused, firing Gani Patail, former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the investigators for the Malaysian Anti-Crime Commission investigating the case, the deputy chief of the police Special Branch intelligence unit and blocking a special parliamentary investigating committee for asking questions.

Despite months of controversy, Najib has never identified the source of the funds but his allies have told several different stories, saying the money came from a mysterious benefactor in the Middle East. A few months after the money arrived in Najib’s account, it was spirited out again to a bank in Singapore, then transferred so an unknown destination. Najib hasn’t denied outright that the accounts were his, but has said the money was not for his personal use, raising suspicions it was used to help the ruling Barisan Nasional fight the 2013 election.

The speculation is that the funds deposited with AmBank came from companies connected to the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which is backed by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance. 1MDB, as the investment fund is known, has RM42 billion in liabilities, an unknown amount of that unfunded, and is struggling to meet its payments. There are concerns that a default could threaten the entire Malaysian financial structure.

"We are in shock and horror," Pascal Najadi said from Moscow. "Our security team learned last night from a reliable source that the mastermind assassin Lim Yuen Soo was indeed captured by the Malaysian Police in October 2015. We further had to learn that the Attorney General's Chambers has subsequently ordered his release. This is not acceptable by any standards. We condemn this and protest in strongest terms."

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