The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has completed its probe into the financial affairs of Prime Minister Najib Razak and passed 37 charges to the attorney general for prosecution, according to an explosive report by the London-based Sarawak Report. The Commission's lead investigator in the case was earlier murdered.
The news blog, edited and written by Clare Rewcastle Brown, said that Najib is trying to negotiate his departure from office with full immunity and as much as RM4 billion (US$907.3 million) in stolen loot after the charges were widely circulated among top United Malays National Organization cadres. Two sources in Kuala Lumpur independently confirmed the story to Asia Sentinel, although a third said it had been around for some time and that there has been no movement, suggesting it might be at least part wishful thinking. Others with connections to the top of UMNO say they don't think Najib is going anywhere anytime soon.
However, Sarawak Report said, "Behind a facade of UMNO unity and relentless PR about the 'crisis being over,'stealthy talks were carried out at the highest levels in a series of locations over the New Year holiday break."
Veteran UMNO politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is said to be brokering the negotiations because Najib trusts him to swing immunity for him, Asia Sentinel was told separately.
“Appearances are being maintained,” an insider told SR, “there have been the usual lavish events and appearances and of course Rosmah [Najib’s wife] is still determined not to let go, but there have been negotiations in Tokyo and Dubai. Najib knows the game is up, but he does not appreciate the reality of his situation. He is a dead duck and yet he is trying to negotiate a safe exit along with a guarantee of all the stolen money! The others will not agree.”
Another problem is that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants Najib and his wife in prison. For another, three murders have revolved around cases involving Najib. The first is the killing by two of his bodyguards of the Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006. Altantuya was at the heart of a 114.96 million euro scandal connected with the purchase of French submarines when Najib was defense minister. The second involved the 2013 murder of Hussain Ahmad Najadi, the founder of AMBank, the home of Najib's accounts, who according to Najadi's son was complaining about financial misdoings on the part of both Najib and UMNO. The third was the macabre murder of Anthony Kevin Morais, the lead prosecutor for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's case against Najib. There will be considerable public outrage if Najib and Rosmah are allowed to go without punishment,
Rotten at the core
The charges are at the heart of the notorious 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund affair, in which billions of US dollars have disappeared into accounts held by Taek Jho Low, the youthful financier who helped Najib – 1MDB's chief economic advisor – set up the fund in 2009. They also revolve around a mysterious US$681 million payment into Najib’s personal account at AMBank in 2013 and its subsequent withdrawal.
Whether Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali acts on the charges remains to be seen. He is an UMNO loyalist who was appointed to the job after Najib fired his predecessor, Abdul Gani Patail, last year for bringing forward charges based on the theft of millions from Malaysia’s pension fund Kumpulan Wang Persaraan or KWAP into Najib’s personal account.
“Apandi is aware that this evidence has now been widely distributed and is known to all the top brass in UMNO, making a protracted cover-up extremely hard to achieve,” Rewcastle Brown wrote.
The charges are said to have been prepared by Morais, whose body was put into a cement-filled oil drum in November and dumped into a river after his car was forced off the road and he was kidnapped. Attorney General’s office officials denied Morais had any role in the investigation. However, Morais, widely believed to be the original leaker to the Sarawak Report and other publications, put much of the information on a USB drive and sent it to his brother in Atlanta, Georgia and other trusted confidants.
Apandi and Special Branch, the intelligence unit of the police – whose deputy chief was fired last year at the same time Ghani Patail was cashiered -- have been attempting to get the documents back, according to the story.
Morais, in an email to Sarawak Report, said “The police continue to be rather aggressive in trying to uncover the sources of the leaks. And not actually trying to nab the lunatic on top of the pyramid, running this country to the ground just so his arse is saved… and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to stop this lunacy.”
The information is said to include copies of the bank statements showing how RM42 million, which was passed into one of Najib Razak’s personal accounts from 1MDB, under the auspices of “Corporate and Social Responsibility” payments, was actually spent by the Prime Minister.
The Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal published details from the 1MDB investigation that showed the exact trail of the money: an original RM4 billion had been borrowed from the KWAP public pension fund by a subsidiary of 1MDB named SRC International Sdn Bhd. Between December 2014 and February 2015 a total of RM42 million was siphoned out of SRC through two intermediary companies controlled by 1MDB executive Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil (Gandingan Mentari Sdn Bhd) and Datuk Shamsul Anwar Sulaiman (Ihsan Perdana Sdn Bhd).
Shamsul has been arrested and interviewed by investigators. Nik Kamil has fled to Jakarta.
Najib has said that none of this public money was spent on personal things. However, those who have seen the relevant bank statements told Sarawak Report that there were several expensive shopping items recorded, many bought on foreign trips.
“Actually, the spending ...was rather mundane,” Morais said in an email to Rewcastle Brown, “Credit card bills, shopping, suppliers to the last elections that had not gotten paid because BNM had frozen the accounts of other proxy companies, that sort of stuff.”
While the SRC scandal is localized and presumably containable, the other graft allegations involve massive dollar currency transactions and implicate foreign banks, which the FBI and other international regulators are now publicly investigating.
On top of those 37 charges relating to SRC International there remains the issue of the US$681 million (RMB2.6 billion at current exchange rates) paid from a number of mysterious off-shore entities into Najib’s AmBank account. According to the Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal, two of those payments were made from a BVI entity named Tanore Finance Corporation just before the 2013 general election.
The money came into Najib’s AmBank account via the Abu Dhabi Aabar fund’s Falcon Bank, just days after Goldman Sachs had negotiated a US$3 billion bond issue in order to fund a supposed strategic partnership between 1MDB and Aabar. Much of the money from the series of bond deals has gone missing and the Chairman of Aabar was sacked shortly after the 1MDB scandal broke last year.
"What is now widely known in UMNO’s upper circles, thanks to further investigations by Malaysian task forces,” Rewcastle Brown wrote, “is that this RM2.6 billion transaction in March 2013 was just a portion of the money which went into Najib’s same AmBank account during the period after 2011.
There were at least two further sets of payments again worth billions of ringgit. Most of this money, which Najib now claims was supposed to help UMNO win the 2013 general elections, was never spent. The majority was sent back to into the Prime Minister’s private account in Singapore straight after the election was over and the KL account was closed.
Lots of stories
Najib and his allies have told a variety of different stories about the source of the money being an anonymous Middle Eastern sheikh who applauded Malaysia’s stance against the terrorist organization Islamic State, or destined for UMNO for the 2013 election.
However, Sarawak Report said, “The money plainly ended up in Najib’s private foreign bank accounts, where much of it remains frozen in Singapore.”
Top UMNO cadres have been given all the details, according to the report, and are furious.
“He didn’t just take the famous RM2.6 billion, it was RM4 billion and more,” one UMNO official told Sarawak Report.
There are other factors prolonging Najib’s stay in office. There is infighting over who will succeed him if UMNO’s top brass have agreed that he must go. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the deputy prime minister appointed last year to replace the fired Muhyiddin Yassin, has made clear that he aims to take over. However, Zahid is regarded as a loose cannon by many and a Najib loyalist.
The UMNO constitution also demands that it is the party that should choose its leaders, which puts Muhyiddin Yassin in line for the succession, not Zahid. Thus the arguments are not about whether Najib should go, but over who should succeed him and on what terms Najib should leave.
“The other major sticking point delaying Najib’s departure is the thorny issue of his criminal actions,” the story continued. “The Prime Minister knows the game is up, say insiders. With the economy in free fall and the country enmeshed in top-down corruption, he sees little glory either to be gained from hanging out for a further election win.”
Money in Rosmah’s own frozen accounts in KL is also in the order of hundreds of unexplained millions, with plenty of stories in the wings relating to crony contracts and the exploitation of public funds.
Where would he go?
The present deadlock has been further strengthened by the fact that Najib appears to have encountered a shortage of willing foreign bolt holes. Turkey has rejected his asylum request and various Middle Eastern countries have simply failed to reply to his entreaties.
In the meantime, Najib is said to be falling prey to every political and financial demand. The wounded PM can’t say no to anybody as he attempts to shore up his support.
“Everyone is going for bribes and contracts and then when that is not enough they come back for more bribes,” one onlooker said. “They are feeding on the carcass of Malaysia’s blighted economy, while Najib tries to stay in office that little bit longer.”
It is a given of politics that once a Prime Minister starts to open even the most discreet exit negotiations there can really be no going back. But how this fraught situation will be ultimately resolved and what will happen to Najib when the dam bursts is still a guessing game.