A source inside the panel that oversees the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission told the Malaysian Insider website on Thursday Feb. 25 that there is sufficient evidence to file charges over alleged financial misdeeds by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
That said, there is little hope that will happen unless Najib somehow badly stumbles.
“Najib isn’t going to go, not now,” said a well-wired political analyst. “It’s another item. But right now he is unassailable. I don’t see it.” That is because the probe must be okayed by Mohamed Apandi Ali, the attorney general handpicked to replace Abdul Gani Patail, who was suddenly dismissed from his job in July as he seemed set to file charges against Najib. Apandi has publicly cleared the premier and it is extremely unlikely he will reverse course.
Shoot the messenger
Nonetheless, the Insider story appears to be damaging enough that authorities blocked the website Thursday on grounds of national security. Asia Sentinel is also blocked in Malaysia. However, the action by the Operations Review Panel, as the oversight committee is known, could be valuable at some point in the future after Najib leaves office.
Meanwhile the number of legal cases said to be under investigation against either the troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the state-backed investment fund Najib set up in 2009 and which he serves as economic adviser, or against Najib himself is damaging the country’s image abroad. It appears to have cost him the friendship of US President Barack Obama, although the president did give him a grip-and-grin at last week’s Asean summit conference in California.
Probes are going on in the US by the Justice Department over possible money laundering in connection with expensive properties in New York and Los Angeles connected to Najib or his wife Rosmah Mansor, as well as into the funding of Red Granite Productions, the movie production team in which Rosmah’s son is a partner and which funded the hit movie Wolf of Wall Street. Yet another is progressing in Switzerland, where authorities charged that US$4 billion has gone missing from 1MDB. Singaporean authorities have sequestered bank accounts held by 1MDB officials. French authorities have charged two officials of Thint, the subsidiary of the munitions giant DCN, with having bribed Najib – by name – in the purchase of submarines by Malaysia. The latest revelation concerns Tim Leisner, the Southeast Asia chairman for Goldman Sachs, and the man who put together a huge bond deal that originally funded 1MDB. Leissner has taken personal leave amid reports of an FBI investigation into the transaction.
Turn out the lights as you leave
The eight-person oversight panel went out of business on Feb. 24 when its term wasn’t extended – the final blow in counteracting the MACC’s probe into SRC International, a mysterious middle-eastern oil exploration company that received huge loans from 1MDB, and into a US$681 million “personal donation” into Najib’s personal Ambank account in 2013. The bulk of the money was mysteriously transferred out after the 2013 general election. Najib has never explained the source of the money or its disposal.
“The panel commended MACC for its professionalism, dedication and integrity, and told the investigators to re-submit investigation papers to the A-G and seek his assistance to issue a mutual legal assistance to enable MACC to obtain evidence and documents from financial institutions abroad,” the Malaysian Insider said. Criminal lawyer M. Visvanathan told the website that credible evidence means that the prosecution has all the ingredients to prove their case in order to take the accused to court.
However, there have been no replacements named for the panel, so it is finished.
In a Jan. 26 press conference, Apandi, a longtime United Malays National Organization figure, managed to botch the affair by waving papers that supposedly cleared Najib, only to have photographers with telephoto lenses take pictures of the papers that clearly identified a money trail from SRC to Najib and credit card payments on personal items.
His remark that there was no longer a need to request overseas legal assistance from authorities is apparently what triggered the Swiss, two days later, to release allegations of the missing US$4 billion from 1MDB. That in turn provoked an aggrieved comment from Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that the Swiss had acted unprofessionally in releasing the information.
The MACC has recorded statements from more than 100 witnesses, including Najib, over the donation and other issues after The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report in July last year, alleging that of the RM2.6 billion donation, RM42 million had originated from SRC International. Najib first threatened to sue the Journal, only to continue to stall and finally say US libel laws mean he wouldn’t win and he couldn’t collect.
Other officials have accused the Journal of a vendetta against Najib and Malaysia after the paper reported that assertions the US$681 million had come from Saudi Arabia were false. Apandi, in his press conference, said the money had been returned by Najib to the donor. Sarawak Report, a hard-hitting blog that has provided most of the crucial reporting on the affair, wrote that the US$681 million originated from a British Virgin Islands company to Falcon Private Bank in Singapore, a Swiss financial institution, and was routed back through Falcon when Najib returned it. There is no record of where the money went from there.