Najib’s Bank Funds Spirited Overseas?

More than RM1 billion [US$308 million at 2013 rates] of the US$681 million that supposedly was routed to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s AmBank account in Malaysia from mysterious Middle Eastern potentates -- if they exist --was spirited back out to overseas accounts, presumably in Najib’s name, sources have told Asia Sentinel.

Nobody contacted by Asia Sentinel was able to speculate on where the money went overseas, although it is said to have been moved in September of 2013. However, Malaysian banking laws require that the movement of more than RM200,000 triggers notification to Bank Negara Malaysia, the country’s central bank. Top central banking officials presumably have information on all major transactions by the ill-starred 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which has been the focus of prolonged controversy over its massive debts. And while the contribution to Najib to AmBank reportedly was routed through another company, that transaction would certainly have triggered notification to the central bank.

There is more trouble for the Malaysian government on the international front, with Swiss regulators and prosecutors said to have reacted to a request by the Basel-based Bruno Manser Foundation NGO to open investigations into a series of transactions involving the funds including banks RBS Coutts in Zurich, the Geneva branch of JP Morgan (Suisse) and subsidiaries of Swiss banks BSI and Falcon Private Bank in Singapore.

The Attorney General of Switzerland office in Bern was quoted by the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that “We are touch with the authorities in Kuala Lumpur and the money laundering reporting office of Switzerland over this matter.”

Najib’s forces have been on a feverish hunt to find out who leaked the AmBank transaction although no details of its origin or ultimate destination after the account was closed have been made public. Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officials have been questioned by police, along with a wide range of other possible individuals as possible leaks and have been threatened by prosecution under the country’s Official Secrets Act.

In addition, other sources in Kuala Lumpur say, authorities are attempting to muzzle former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s fiercest critic, by threatening an investigation of Mahathir’s son Mokhzani for insider trading on a transaction involving the merger of his oil-and-gas equipment-fabricating company Kencana Petroleum.

“They are demonizing all and sundry who they think are a threat to or deemed to be a threat to Mohd Najib,” wrote A. Kadir Jasin, the former editor in chief of the New Straits Times and a close associate of Mahathir’s. “They don’t give a hoot if they destroy state institutions like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC), the Attorney General’s Chamber and Bank Negara. They have succeeded in discrediting, demoralizing and fracturing the AG's Chamber, the MACC and the police. Now they are attacking Bank Negara.”

Unnamed forces are trying to drive Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the central bank governor, and four other top officials out of the bank over rumors she or other Bank Negara officers made details of the 1MDB transactions and those into Najib’s personal account available to the Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal.

A clutch of anonymous blogs, particularly “The Recounter” and “Fromtheeleventh” targeted Zeti especially, quoting the International Consortium of Journalists alleging that her family has numerous secret bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands and other areas with tight banking secrecy laws.

However, Zeti on Aug. 5 received an endorsement from an unexpected source – Najib’s brother Nazir, the chairman of CIMB Group, who has grown increasingly estranged from the Malaysian political establishment. Nazir posted an Instagram picture of himself with Zeti and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, with the quote “My moment with 2 icons of global finance.”

berthelsen money gone

Photo courtesy Malaysian Insider

From the start, publication by the Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal of the 2013 deposits in Najib’s account has raised far more questions than have been answered. Where did the money come from, and where did it go? Why would Middle Eastern princes decide to give the prime minister that much money without announcing it publicly? The Saudi Arabians have long poured money into Muslim countries in Asia, including Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia. When they have done so, they have announced the donations with considerable fanfare.

Even wealthy countries don’t just give away US$681 million. What did Najib do to earn that much money, if he did, or did it come from other sources? It should be remembered, for instance, that according to French prosecuting authorities Najib and his close friend Abdul Razak Baginda engineered a kickback from the French munitions maker DCN of €114 million in the last decade. The money is believed to have been steered to the United Malays National Organization, according to the French investigators. But that kickback, disguised as “support services,” earned DCN the chance to sell US$1 billion worth of submarines to Malaysia that the country hardly needed and which must be docked at Labuan in East Malaysia because the waters around Peninsular Malaysia are too shallow to allow for submerged operation.

The secrecy accompanying the transfer of the money through SRC International Sdn. Bhd, a company owned by the Ministry of Finance, instead of directly from the Middle Eastern sources raises more questions. Why was the transaction hidden, only to be acknowledged obliquely after ousted Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Najib had owned up to it in a conversation with him?

UMNO Supreme Council member Shahrir Samad told reporters in Malaysia that neither the Supreme Council nor the state UMNO liaison committee was ever told of any contributions or political donations to the Najib, the party president or treasurer.

If, as UMNO officials have sought to portray the funds, the money was to be used in the 2013 election, how is it possible that RM2.6 billion, or even RM1.6 after the overseas flight of RM1 billion, could have ended up financing the polls without anybody knowing about it? The 2013 general election was widely believed to have been the target of vast UMNO spending. But how could that have happened without the Supreme Council or other Barisan Nasional bodies knowing about it?

And, if that kind of money was poured into the races, it would have meant that at least RM7 million would have gone to every one of the 222 Barisan candidates. Malaysia’s campaign laws prohibit campaign donations of more than RMB50,000 for state races and RMB200,000 for parliamentary seats. That much money washing through the electoral process would have set off alarm bells.