Malaysia’s Najib: Long Political Career Ending in Disgrace?
When a dozen police cars showed up in front of the home of former Prime Minister Najib Razak late in the afternoon on May 16, it may have finally spelled the end of an audacious nine-year reign as premier and a political career that began in 1976 and now looks like ending in disgrace. According to a Kuala Lumpur source, the primary focus of the investigation is SRC International, a 1Malaysia Development Bhd. subsidiary established in 2011 by Najib to pursue strategic energy investments overseas. It ran into a river of red ink amid scandal. An arrest, the sources say, could be in days or perhaps weeks.
Najib was elected to fill the seat of his late father, Prime Minister Razak Hussein, at the age of 23, becoming the youngest person ever elected to Malaysia’s parliament. Now 64, he has done a tightrope dance for decades away from accusations of a long string of crimes, not least of which is allegedly participating in the theft of a reported US$4.5 billion from the state-backed investment concern that he founded in 2009 with the help of the flamboyant Penang-born financier Low Taek Jho, who remains on the run somewhere on the planet.
In addition to that, however, there is the residue of a US$141.3 million kickback through Najib and his best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, in the purchase of US$1 billion of French submarines that are virtually useless because Peninsular Malaysia’s waters are too shallow to allow them to be used effectively. The death of 28-year old Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu, reputed to have been a former Najib paramour, has never been properly solved. Two executives of a subsidiary of the French munitions maker DCNS have been charged in Paris with bribing Najib and Razak Baginda has been charged as well.
Also, the family of the late Ambank founder Hussain Najadi, who was shot dead in a Kuala Lumpur parking lot in 2013, is demanding a proper investigation of the death. Pascal Najadi, Hussain’s son, has alleged that the slain banker was killed because he was complaining about irregularities in financial transactions at the bank. It is the same bank where US$681 million alleged to have been stolen from 1MDB ws deposited into Najib’s personal account in 2013. Pascal Najadi has issued a formal plea to Mahathir to reopen the assassination via a royal commission.
With 1MDB, the deposed prime minister has kept investigations at bay in Washington, DC, Singapore, Switzerland, the UK and states in the Middle East, claiming the US$681 million in his Ambank account came from a grateful Saudi royal family grateful for Malaysia’s supposedly tough stance on jihadis. He
According to local news reports, four properties of Najib’s were raided including condominiums and the prime ministerial office from which he was ousted in a landslide election on May 9 despite a harsh redistricting designed to keep the opposition at bay. In the end, the Barisan Nasional led by his United Malays National Organization received only 31 percent of the vote, not enough to overcome the political traps he and his lieutenants had set for the Pakatan Harapan opposition headed by his implacable critic, the nonagenarian former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib and his grasping, portly wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been placed on an immigration blacklist to prevent them from fleeing the country. Mohamed Apandi Ali, the attorney general he appointed hurriedly to forestall a threatened prosecution, has also been sacked. A chartered airplane scheduled to take the Najibs out of the country was blocked. It is a long way down for a man who golfed with the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and did a grip-and-grin with Obama’s successor Donald Trump.
For three years, since the 1MDB scandal broke into the open, Najib has played whack-a-mole, putting out fire after fire to keep the scandal at bay. He kicked out prominent members of UMNO, including Muhyiddin Yassin, the party deputy leader and the country’s deputy prime minister. He delivered lavish bribes to top UMNO cadres to keep them from voting him out of power as party leader. He fired Abdul Gani Patail, the attorney general who headed a 2016 investigation into his crimes. A lead investigator in that case ended up in a cement-filled oil drum in a river. That case has never been properly investigated.
Mahathir told local reporters he is working with both Switzerland and the United States, which is carrying out an extensive investigation by the US Justice Department’s kleptocracy unit into 1MDB, to seek the return of embezzled funds. So far, Justice Department officials have sequestered more than US$1 billion in assets that appear to have been stolen by Najib, Jho Low as he is universally known, and other parties.
It wasn’t just the theft, but the utter flamboyance of it. For several years, there were reports of partying on a vast scale by Jho Low, pouring Cristal champagne into a succession of blondes and escorting Rosmah in New York. Rosmah is said to have bought a pink diamond bracelet worth more than US$25 million that the US is seeking to get back. Money was used to produce the lurid Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Paintings by French masters, a Bombardier jet, the 300-foot yacht Equanimity that the US is still trying to get its hands on, condos in New York and homes in Beverly Hills were all part of the haul, much of it now in the hands of the US government although the justice department is still sleuthing in southern California for more.
“The focus on corruption is important, because we need to get back money which is still in Switzerland, the US, Singapore and maybe Luxembourg. For this, we will contact the governments of the countries to recover the money there,” Mahathir told reporters.
In addition, there is a metaphorical time bomb awaiting Najib in the Villa wood Detention Center in Sydney in the form of Sirul Azhar Umar, one of Najib’s former bodyguards and one of the convicted killers of Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was central to the submarine scandal
Sirul has been in the detention center since 2015 after he was detained by Australian authorities following his flight from Malaysia while he was temporarily freed from prison there on appeal of his murder sentence. In 2013, as Asia Sentinel reported at the time, Sirul first talked to reporters and told them he could name the person or persons who offered him and his fellow elite police commando Azilah Hadri.
That was before Hasnal Reza Merican, an UMNO Youth division leader, and Hisham Kamaruddin, a former deputy prosecutor who represented Sirul during his original trial, rushed to Australia to shut him up, conjuring up the specter that lawyers for Malaysia’s biggest political party were advising a convicted murderer. Since that time, UMNO lawyers have been in regular contact with Sirul, who has stopped singing.
Now that UMNO has lost the election and the opposition has taken over, the question is whether those UMNO lawyers have any continuing hold on Sirul – especially since the new government is aggressively seeking to clean out the stables. Australian authorities now are expected to demand that Sirul prove he didn’t mastermind the killing if he is to be granted a protection visa to get him out of prison. UMNO lawyers once again met with Sirul shortly before the election to ask him to keep his mouth shut.
Altantuya, then the jilted mistress of Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib’s best friend and the person alleged by a now-dead private detective to have been her lover earlier, was believed to have been pregnant when she was killed and her body blown up with C4 explosive, possibly to hide the fact that she was pregnant. Her father, Setev Shaariibuu, a Mongolian university professor, has long demanded justice for those who planned her death.
A full catalog of the misuses of Malaysian public funds and institutions would take more than there is time for. Three contracts let when he was defense minister appear to have produced at least US$300 million and probably more, either for him or for his friends in UMNO. Opposition figures told Asia Sentinel previously that the three contracts were one for Russian Sukhoi jet fighters, a second for the submarines and a third for navy patrol boats.
That wasn’t all. According to a think tank at the time, the shopping list “included battle tanks from Poland, Russian and British surface-to-air missiles and mobile military bridges, Austrian Steyr assault rifles and Pakistani anti-tank missiles.” Given military contract overruns, it can easily be assumed that there was a sweetener involved with every one of them.
It is unknown if Malaysia has the time and effort to look at all of them. 1MDB, by itself, is spectacular enough.